With Seahawks betting on youth, LBs face steepest learning curve
The Seahawks entered this offseason with a myriad of questions at numerous positions. Offensive line, cornerback, defensive line, running back, quarterback – it was almost every position on the field save for safety and wide receiver.
The draft addressed those pressing concerns, shored up major areas of need on the roster, and put this team in a good position heading into minicamp next month. However, there was one group that didn’t get any reinforcements or upgrades: the linebackers.
Perhaps it was the inevitability of Bobby Wagner’s release and the natural succession plan that had been in place since the final games of last season, but there seems to be a lack of attention being given to one of the great unknowns entering the 2022 season. Bobby Wagner is the greatest linebacker in Seahawks history, and at this point there isn’t much to go on in order to know if the guys who remain are ready to pick up the slack or how long the acclimation process will take.
It is a great opportunity for Cody Barton, who played well in place of Wagner after a Week 17 injury last season, but the learning curve will be massive. A credit to Wagner (and a criticism at times when his play started to decline) was the fact that he literally never missed a play.
Pro Football Reference tracks the percentage of defensive snaps played, and Wagner did not take a single snap off all season until he was injured on the first play of the Detroit game. In 2020, he played every snap except for late in the blowout win over the Jets (Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven each got 10 snaps). It is a vastly different scenario to be the guys coming in as relief and being “the guy” who is helping dictate coverages and communicate on the fly, especially in an era when NFL offenses have never been more complex.
This is no knock on Barton nor Burr-Kirven. In fact, a guy who probably knows more about linebackers than anyone reading this is Wyman and Bob’s Dave Wyman, a former NFL linebacker and current Seahawks Radio Network color commentator, and he has consistently pointed out how well Barton plays the position when he has gotten opportunities to do so – like in 2019 against the Panthers, or at the end of this past year against the Lions and Cardinals.
Yet there are still concerns. For as good as Jordyn Brooks was last year, there were issues in pass coverage with the linebackers that persisted for much of the season. In fact, even as late as Nov. 17, Wagner mentioned in his weekly press conference that their communication wasn’t as good as it needed to be on covering screen passes. It took an entire season for Brooks and Wagner to get on the same page; now replace Wagner with an inexperienced starter and a guy in Brooks who must fill the shoes of a Hall of Famer and take over as captain of the linebacker corps. Add in an entirely new mentality on defense, along with a handful of new coaches, and it represents a dramatic departure from the stability that has defined the linebacker position for a decade in Seattle.
This is not to sound fatalistic about the outlook at linebacker. Brooks emerged as a bonafide star in just his second year, and Barton showed enough in those two games at the end of the season to impress a couple of former NFL players in Wyman and Brock Huard. It is noteworthy, and reflective of where the Seahawks are right now in this recalibration process, that there is potential. But there are too many unknowns to truly understand what you will get right away.
There will be a learning curve and setbacks may persist longer than we might expect. I can’t help but think of the Mariners right now when talking about the challenges that can arise when putting the weight of success on young stars. It is understandably tough to tell a sports fan to be patient, but the Seahawks do have the future of the linebacking unit in place. Now it’s time to see how long the growing and learning process takes for them to become successful.