Before K.J. Wright trundles off to dreamland every Game Day Eve, he plays the game in his head.
In his mind he sees himself playing flawlessly. Aggressively. Intelligently. Joyfully.
The visualization, he said, has helped him prepare for games. Fact is, the images in his head have been almost exactly what has been happening in the waking game that follows.
Linebacker Kenneth Bernard Wright Jr. leads the Seattle Seahawks in tackles and is one of the unit’s key players, primed to edge into the national spotlight.
The Seahawks have those four All-Pro defenders that draw most of the attention.
But safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner have dealt with injuries or recoveries, safety Kam Chancellor was out in a contract dispute, and cornerback Richard Sherman has been avoided and gone interception-less thus far.
Yet the Seahawks are No. 3 in the NFL in total defense, in large part because of the efforts of others who are playing at elite pace — defensive ends Michael Bennett (6.5 sacks) and Cliff Avril (10 quarterback hits) and Wright (49 tackles).
Coach Pete Carroll contends Wright his having his best season, his fifth in the NFL.
“It’s the most consistent that he’s been,” Carroll said. “(He) really has a nose for the ball; he’s a terrific pro.”
Carroll cited Wright’s pass coverage skills as a key part of his play.
“I’m just trying to keep improving and being the best teammate I can be,” Wright said.
Told that Carroll touted this as his best season, Wright was curious: “Why are people saying that? Somebody tell me why.”
Well, K.J., you’ve made more tackles than anybody on the team; you’ve been almost unerring in bringing down ball carriers, and your coverage has been excellent.
“The season’s not over yet, though,” he protested. “But so far it’s good. I really wanted to emphasize my tackling and my zone drops and if my man catches the ball, I want him to go down right now.”
Wright says he’s seeing things better, being quicker at reading his run-pass keys.
So, you’re playing smarter?
“Maybe I am playing smarter,” he said. “I think that’s one of my best assets.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman wanted to make something clear from the start, Wright “has always been a very, very good football player,” he said. “This year, he’s playing mistake-free. He’s not missing tackles; he’s playing in the backfield, sniffing out screens. Hopefully, he can get recognized when more people see that.”
Wagner, at middle linebacker, concedes a bias when it comes to evaluating Wright, who plays beside him at weakside linebacker.
“He welcomed me when I first came in and was the kind of guy who took me under his wing and helped me learn the system,” Wagner said. “It was his second year and my first, and we kind of just learned the league together.”
Wagner said he’s “truly proud” of how Wright has been playing,” and he, too, is surprised that people haven’t recognized the quality of Wright’s play before now.
“You can feel his presence all over the field,” Wagner said. It’s been felt even at Wagner’s spot. When Wagner missed a game with a pectoral injury, Wright slid over and played the middle linebacker position adeptly.
It was Wright’s quick learning as a rookie that allowed the Seahawks to cut their losses with disappointing former first-round pick Aaron Curry. Wright stepped in early that season and was an immediate upgrade.
What people don’t see of Wright, Wagner said, is that “he’s such a fun guy to play with.”
“He’s always smiling and he’s definitely a jokester, always kidding, always with a smile on his face,” Wagner said. “He likes to talk trash, too. He thinks he’s good at video games. But he’s not. And he thinks he’s good at ping pong. But he’s not.”
How about football? How about playing linebacker in the National Football League?
“Yeah, well …” Wagner said. “He is pretty good at that.”