RENTON Kris Richard played it off as if he was joking.
But he was painfully accurate while nailing the essence of this Seahawks season on defense.
The defensive coordinator was speaking following Thursday’s practice for Sunday’s mammoth test against the first-place Los Angeles, in what is essentially the NFC West championship game. The first question he got from the media was about preparing for the possibility All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl outside linebacker K.J. Wright will miss the biggest regular-season game in years because of injuries.
Wagner has a strained hamstring. Wright has a concussion. Both got hurt in the third quarter of last weekend’s loss at Jacksonville. Both missed their second consecutive practice on Thursday.
“Business as usual,” Richard said. “Just another day at the office.”
The defensive coordinator laughed. But it’s not funny. Just true.
Wagner and Wright are the fourth and fifth Pro Bowl players out or injured. Cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor and end Cliff Avril are already out for the season because of major injuries.
Now Seattle’s ability to once again throttle dynamic running back Todd Gurley and the Rams--as they did with all those stars playing on Oct. 8 in L.A.--comes down to their fill-ins: Michael Wilhoite at middle linebacker, Terence Garvin at outside linebacker, Byron Maxwell at left cornerback, Bradley McDougald at strong safety and Frank Clark at every-down end.
That was absolutely not in Richard’s plans to begin this season.
“In all seriousness, it’s an awesome challenge,” Richard said--stretching the meaning of “awesome.”
“And again, it’s the reason why we are professionals: It’s about the next man being up, regardless of who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, or who’s out. You always have to be prepared to play because the next man is one play away.”
Wagner is in a nonstop series of treatments this week trying to get back from the hamstring issue he’s played through for the last month, and which he felt pull even more in the chilly evening air in North Florida last Sunday. Knowing Wagner, he’s going to try to play. But hamstring strains and pulls aren’t just pain-management issues; either you can run with one or you can’t.
Wright’s situation is more clear cut: He must pass through each of five stages of the NFL’s concussion protocol before doctors can clear him to play. The first three stages max out at aerobic exercise. Step four is football-specific, non-contact work. This time of the season, all Seahawks practice work is non-contact. Step five is full return to all football activities, with no limitations.
While Richard or coach Pete Carroll have not specified the stage Wright’s in--the league catch-all for concussion cases are the words “he’s in the protocol”--there is no evidence he’d done any football-related work through Thursday. He seemingly has to get on the field even in a limited manner for Friday’s light practice before he’d have any chance to play against the Rams on Sunday.
Last weekend, the Jaguars scored 27 of their 30 points after Wagner and then Wright got knocked out of the game. The play that most tellingly demonstrated the consequence of their absences was Leonard Fournette’s 13-yard on third and 11 late in the game. The fill-in linebackers overran their assigned gaps to stop the off-tackle play, and Fournette cut upfield into the mistakenly open space for the first down that kept the Seahawks from getting the ball back a final time and clinched Jacksonville’s win.
Their coordinator didn’t mask the fact Wagner’s and Wright’s absences directly contributed to that loss.
“Would they have been the difference maker? Yeah, you could speculate that, of course,” Richard said. “There are some things that normally happen that they’re accustomed to seeing more times than not...”
“The whole point is again, when we get new guys or different guys into the game, there could be no drop-off in the level of execution. That’s why we all prepare, so we have to be prepared.
“And quite frankly, I have to make sure that I’m doing a better job of having all of our guys prepared to go in.”