What does Seahawks’ Brooks playing WILL LB mean for him and Wright?
After a season in which the Seahawks got next to no production from their first-round draft pick, Seattle will be turning to 2020 first rounder Jordyn Brooks to do more than L.J. Collier did when he first gets on the field this upcoming season.
The Seahawks surprised many when they not only stayed at pick 27, but selected Brooks, a linebacker. Training camp is now under way and Brooks is finally in Seattle’s facility, and it appears that his path to playing time on defense will come at a position that the team’s longest-tenured player currently occupies.
“(Brooks) can play all three spots at linebacker,” head coach Pete Carroll told reporters on Monday. “He’s physically capable, and there’s a lot of film of him playing all different spots. … The flexibility is there. I think his clearest path and what might be the most obvious path will be the WILL backer spot. We’ll see how that goes, we’ll start him there and then see how fast he can grasp it and how soon he can become comfortable and we’ll see.”
The WILL spot, which is the weakside linebacker, has belonged to K.J. Wright seemingly forever. Wright was drafted in 2011 and has held down that position alongside All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, forming one of the better linebacker duos in recent memory. Wright, 31, is entering the last year of his current contract and based on what Carroll said about Brooks, Wright may be fighting to keep his current spot.
Former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Bob, Dave and Moore explained why Brooks starting his career as a WILL linebacker makes a lot of sense but why it may be difficult for him to see the field in that role as a rookie.
“You back a guy into a corner like K.J. and he’s going to come out swinging and he’s going to fight you for that job,” Wyman said. “It makes the most sense to put Brooks there. I played the WILL in a 4-3 (defense) and it was my best year. I really enjoyed it.”
Brooks is 6 feet tall and weighs roughly 240 pounds and is extremely quick, as evidenced by his 4.54-second 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine. That speed would allow him to excel at the WILL spot based on what the position entails.
“You get a lot of freedom to just run around and make plays,” Wyman said. “Typically, the middle linebacker makes all the calls and checks and things like that.”
Over the last two seasons, the Seahawks have been forced to play three rookie linebackers at various times due to injuries. In 2018, Shaquem Griffin started at outside linebacker in the season opener and last year, Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven got on the field, with Barton getting a handful of starts late in the year. All three of them had some struggles, Wyman said, and to limit the rookie mistakes Brooks will almost certainly make, he offered a sort of template for how he can be used.
“With Brooks, if you get him in some situations where it’s just put him in and push ‘play,’ go, run to the quarterback, run to the ball, don’t have a lot of responsibilities, (play in) man-to-man coverage and things like that, you can use him,” he said. “… You want to put him in situations where (there is) less thinking and just hit the gas, play at 100%, go 100 mph and that’s probably the best position for him to play.”
Wright is coming off, arguably, his best season, as he had career highs in tackles and interceptions with 132 and three, respectively. He also broke up 11 passes. Wyman said that last year, as the defense as a whole struggled, Wright was perhaps more important than ever before, and that the idea of trading, cutting or benching him, or perhaps moving him to the SAM or strongside linebacker spot could be seen as “sacrilegious.” The thing working against Wright, though, is Brooks’ status as a first-round pick.
“I would think you give (Brooks) every opportunity you can to get him on the field and if he starts to show something then he might end up playing that position and like you said, maybe you can move K.J. over there to the other side,” he said.
What exactly are the three linebacker spots?
The Seahawks run a 4-3 defense, meaning they have three linebackers and four defensive linemen. In that system, there is one middle linebacker and two outside linebackers.
Wyman provided a quick breakdown of where each linebacker would line up on any given play.
SAM/strongside, where Mychal Kendricks and Barton started last season: “You’re usually lined up over the tight end … Usually you’re lined up kind of on the line of scrimmage – not always – and you’re up on the tight end.”
MIKE/middle, Wagner’s position since 2012: “Is right in the middle, usually right over the center.
WILL/weakside, Wright’s position where Brooks will supposedly be playing: “WILL is on the backside. So usually the weakside linebacker is usually just dropping into zones and playing the weakside (side of the center with the fewest blockers) of the formation. And a lot of times when teams line up with a tight end, they want to run that way, so you’re the back side sort of ‘pursuit guy.'”
Listen to the first hour of Tuesday’s Bob, Dave and Moore at this link or in the player below.