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Seahawks linebacker group will see interesting competition in training camp

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Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

When the Seattle Seahawks report to training camp it will be an opportunity for fans to see the team’s offseason additions in action. From draft picks like Jordyn Brooks, to free agent additions Bruce Irvin and Carlos Hyde, the new names and faces will have an opportunity to compete for their right to put their own stamp on the Hawks brand of football.

Specifically, at linebacker the Hawks will have a group of players fighting not just for the limited number of snaps that are likely to be available, but potentially for the precious spots at the end of the roster as well. The unquestioned leader of the group is future Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner, who in his eighth year in the NFL in 2019 may have seen his play slip from an otherworldly All Universe level to a more easy to comprehend All Pro level, but who continues to dominate in any case. In fact, the last time Wagner didn’t make the Pro Bowl was 2013, and every Seattle fan knows how that season turned out.

In any case, the linebackers who will be fighting for the spots behind Wagner are:

  • K.J. Wright,
  • Bruce Irvin
  • Jordyn Brooks,
  • Cody Barton,
  • Ben Burr-Kirven,
  • Shaquem Griffin,
  • Sutton Smith and
  • Emmanuel Ellerbee.

The Seahawks typically keep either five or six linebackers on the roster, with six being far more common than five. That is especially true when considering that the team often uses its depth linebackers on special teams, and of the five Seahawks who played the most special teams snaps in 2019, three of them were linebackers in Barton (317 snaps), BBK (306) and Griffin (216). If one wishes to consider Nick Bellore as a linebacker as well, given that during his eight years in the league he’s logged 819 snaps at linebacker and just 160 snaps at fullback, that would make four of the top five Seattle special teamers by snaps linebackers.

In any case, barring injury Irvin and Brooks are effectively locks for spots on the roster given their contract situation. Irvin has the overwhelming majority of his 2020 earnings guaranteed, while Brooks will have his entire 2020 salary fully guaranteed once he is officially signed by the team. There are certainly some who will argue that Irvin is more of a defensive end than a linebacker, but that ignores the fact that Irvin has stated that the team intends to use Irvin at the Sam spot on early downs and move to defensive end on passing downs. That addresses the top three linebacker spots, while identifying the likely starter at both the Sam and Mike spots.

From there it becomes a matter of figuring out the Will, where the team has said that Brooks is set to compete with Wright out of the gate.

With the pandemic severely limiting the ability of youngsters to get reps during the offseason, and the new collective bargaining agreement further limiting the amount of time players may spend practicing in training camp, the ability of rookies to have an early impact could be extremely limited. The team had no qualms about keeping 2019 second round pick Marquise Blair on the sideline when he failed to play assignment sound football, and a limited number of preseason reps could lead to Wright maintaining his grip on the starting job as the weakside linebacker. Regardless of whether Wright or Brooks wins the job, the team seems likely to keep Wright around as depth in case Brooks proves to need more time to adjust to the NFL or as depth behind Irvin and Wagner, neither of whom is a spring chicken. Irvin is set to turn 33 the day the Hawks take on the San Francisco 49ers in Week 8, and Wagner will leave his twenties in the past just days before reporting to training camp.

That is the top four linebacker spots likely claimed by those four, leaving the following five players duking it out for the final couple of spots:

  • Barton
  • Burr-Kirven
  • Ellerbee
  • Griffin
  • Smith

If the team does indeed keep just six at the position, that would appear to mean that at least one of the trio of recent draftees Barton, BBK or Griffin could be the odd man out before even considering whether Smith or Ellerbee could further complicate things. Of course, it’s entirely possible any of those five could potentially find their way to the practice squad for the year, though Barton, as a third round pick in 2019, might not be able to clear waivers with another three years of team control left on what would be an even more team friendly contract for a claiming team.

Those are decisions that fans will have no idea on until things have a chance to play out during camp, however, Mike Dugar of The Athletic posited the following on Thursday.

If Dugar proves to be correct that Irvin, Wagner and Wright are the Week 1 starters at linebacker, it would be the ninth straight year in which the team’s top overall draft pick was not a Week 1 starter, with James Carpenter the last top Seattle pick to start Week 1. Obviously, that’s simply a possibility and there’s no way to know how ready Brooks will be for his role once the season starts, and when training camp opens in less than eight weeks fans will have a chance to see just how intense the competition at linebacker will be.