Dave Boling

Dave Boling: Overlooked linebacker K.J. Wright still invaluable to Seahawks’ powerful defense

K.J. Wright holds his 3-month-old son after a Seahawks practice on Aug. 16.
K.J. Wright holds his 3-month-old son after a Seahawks practice on Aug. 16. SeattlePI.com via AP

A passing third party lobs unsolicited commentary into an interview.

“K.J., you’re the best,” interrupts Bobby Wagner, the Seattle Seahawks’ Pro Bowl middle linebacker. “K.J., you’re the best.”

When linebacker K.J. Wright turns to acknowledge his comments, Wagner nods his head and points at his teammate for emphasis. “The best.”

It’s not uncommon around the Seahawks to have teammates jump in to serve as unofficial press agents for members of their cohort because, as Wright will explain, this Seahawks team has an interconnectedness far deeper than anyone from the outside can fathom.

First, though, Wagner can be trusted to be an authority on such matters as linebacker credentials. He’s seen one of the best defenses in the NFL led in tackles the past two seasons by Wright.

But while an avalanche of national honors and accolades have buried members of the Seahawks defense, Wright is yet to be voted to a Pro Bowl.

Pro Football Focus, an online analytical site, considered him one of the most underrated players in the NFL, particularly after noting that while playing 994 snaps in 2015, he missed just four tackles.

So it’s an obvious angle on a story about Wright: Where’s the respect?

But Wright got cautious when the interview veered in that direction, because he refused to complain about a perceived lack of respect, or even hint of being jealous of his teammates.

“I think about it sometimes and wonder why, but I don’t let it get me down,” Wright said. “I keep chopping wood and looking at the bright side. If people don’t recognize it, that’s not high on my priorities. I have my family and my faith and I play the game because I love it and because I’m good at it.”

Real motivation, he said, comes from within. The rest is temporary.

“Fame? It leaves. Pro Bowls? They’ll be gone,” he said. “I’m healthy, I’m happy, I have my son I get to kiss before I go to bed, that’s what’s important.”

Ah, yes, little Kameron Joseph Wright, who is now 2 1/2 months old and already stretching out his 6-month onesies.

Flush with a father’s love for his new child, Wright said he’s developed an even better understanding of his football “family,” now entering his sixth season in Seattle.

Highly decorated Seahawks safety Earl Thomas likes to say that the entire defense is connected, as if by a string — a metaphor for their shared responsibilities as well as their professional interdependence.

Wright agrees with the theory, but had to expand on the premise.

“It’s deeper than that, and it’s what we’re really playing for,” he said. “When I’m communicating with Bobby, it’s because I want him to be great, and everybody else, too. It’s like we feed into each other’s souls. That’s how deeply we’re connected. That’s what makes this so special.”

Wait, he paused, because, as a family man, he sensed the responsibility goes beyond just teammates.

“Really, I’m not just playing for them, but for each other’s families, too, for their future,” he added. “The older you get, the more you understand that.”

Wright, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State, had his best season last year, with 116 tackles and four forced fumbles. In the December game at Minnesota, specifically, he almost personally rendered All-Pro back Adrian Peterson irrelevant, with 18 yards rushing and just 6 more on four catches.

“He’s one of the unsung heroes of this team,” linebackers coach Michael Barrow said. “He had the best year of his career and he didn’t get recognized for it, and I think that’s a tragedy. He wouldn’t say anything about it, but I will.”

Barrow and assistant linebacker coach Lofa Tatupu marveled at the statistic about Wright missing only four tackles all season.

“We were joking that we’d each missed four tackles in one game,” Barrow said. “He’s smart, has great instincts and intuition about where something is going to happen … and then he’s got the speed and toughness.”

Wright said he wants to get his hands on a few more quarterbacks this season, but otherwise is not going to change anything: “Just playing my style, playing hard, never taking a play off … that’s something you’ll never see.”

The approach, he said, is the same he’s had since he came into the league, and was taught the ways of the National Football League by his linebacker coach Ken Norton Jr.

“He really molded me into who I am now, with the same philosophy and practice habits,” Wright said. “It started off the field, with the kind of man you are and how you are with your family, and then what kind of pro you are, and how you visualize success and prepare to reach it.”

At 27 years old, and presumably entering the prime of his career, Wright’s success has gone past anything he had visualized. He’s made himself one of the best in the business.

Take Bobby Wagner’s word on it.

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