RENTON – Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll took a calculated risk when he let David Hawthorne sign with New Orleans in free agency.
He knew that Hawthorne, the team’s leading tackler the past three seasons, was a good player and team leader.
Still, Carroll wanted to get faster and more athletic at the middle linebacker position. And Hawthorne had been hobbled with a knee issue during his final season in Seattle.
So when the Saints offered Hawthorne a five-year, $19 million dollar contract, Seattle told Hawthorne thanks for the memories.
Enter Bobby Wagner, a rookie second-round pick out of Utah State. Wagner understands he has big shoes to fill with the departure of Hawthorne, but Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said the 22-year-old has more than held his own.
“He’s more poised than I thought he would be,” Bradley said. “Coming in, he’s leading the huddle with the first group. Usually those guys get in front of the huddle and Red’s (defensive end Red Bryant) razzing him a little bit, or Clem’s (defensive end Chris Clemons) telling him to speak up louder because we need to get the call. But he handled that really well.”
Bradley said he knew Wagner arrived when the headsets on the sidelines went down during the team’s first preseason game against Tennessee, the defensive coordinator had to signal in the calls.
Wagner told Bradley he could read his lips from the sideline and get the calls that way.
“I think for him the big thing is just getting used to using his hands,” Bradley said. “He’s going to have linemen out on him, and he’s getting better at that, and attacking the line of scrimmage.”
Wagner also received a big pat on the back when Seattle fullback Michael Robinson called the Utah State product a “Baby Patrick Willis” because of his ability to run and take on blocks.
Wagner appreciated the props from his teammate, but also knows he has a long ways to go before being compared to the San Francisco 49ers’ Willis, who’s one of the best linebackers in the game.
“It was a huge compliment,” Wagner said. “But I understand that I’m young, and I’ve got a lot of room to improve to be that great. But that’s definitely something I’m trying to work towards.”
The Seahawks selected Wagner because of his athleticism and production in college. At 6-feet and 235 pounds, Wagner ran a 4.45-second, 40-yard dash, posted a 39-inch vertical jump, and 11-foot broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 24 times at his pro day.
Wagner also totaled 445 tackles as a four-year starter at Utah State, with four interceptions and 4.5 sacks in 48 games played for the Aggies.
Not bad for the native of Ontario, Calif., who says basketball was his first love in high school.
“I thought I was going to be a basketball player, but then my height – I wasn’t that tall,” said Wagner, chuckling. “I just tried to put points on the board. I realized I wasn’t that tall and I wasn’t going to do much. So I balled out in high school and lived those moments up.”
The Seahawks showed confidence that Wagner was ready for the starting job by trading veteran Barrett Ruud to New Orleans for an undisclosed draft pick. Ruud had been brought in during free agency as veteran insurance in case Wagner struggled.
Now that he knows he’s the man, Wagner says it’s time to get back to work.
“It was a great feeling to know my hard work during OTAs and training camp had paid off,” Wagner said. “So now I’m just ready to go out there and prove myself to the world.”firstname.lastname@example.org 253-597-8437 blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @eric_d_williams