As the Seahawks bucked convention and stuck with their base defense at such a consistent rate in 2019, their trio of linebackers faced an increasing amount of scrutiny. Even Bobby Wagner, who quite literally hadn’t put a foot wrong for several years, was accused by some of nearing the proverbial cliff. With a far deeper, more versatile secondary behind them in 2020, Seattle’s linebacker corps should return to being seen as an obvious strength.
The Seahawks are blessed with high-level starters and high-ceiling reserves at the two predominant spots, with first-round pick Jordyn Brooks playing K.J. Wright’s understudy, while Cody Barton has slid into the middle behind Wagner. Filling out the strongside, which has typically personified Pete Carroll’s “4-3 scheme with 3-4 personnel approach,” is Bruce Irvin and Shaquem Griffin.
While almost all of the team’s linebackers are locked into roster spots, Brooks stands out as a potential dark horse contributor. Though Wright admirably fought off physical decline and age in 2019, his snaps still require a close eye and he will have the team’s top selection right behind him. Brooks could quickly become Wagner’s running mate on early downs and, in time, on an every snap basis.
Reason for optimism
Whether the leaders in snaps are Wagner and Wright or Wagner and Brooks, the biggest reason for optimism is the belief that an improved secondary will lead to more snaps in sub-packages and less disadvantageous situations for the team’s linebackers. That alone will restore Seattle’s ‘backers to a place among the league’s elite and they have both their present and future secure off the ball.
The position closest to the line of scrimmage, at SAM, is far better off in 2020. In 2019, Mychal Kendricks missed 19 tackles and had few impactful moments as a blitzer, with just three sacks and 10 pressures, as he was largely ineffective as both a box and edge defender. Irvin, Kendricks’ replacement, is far more suited to the role he previously filled. Over the last five seasons, Irvin has missed 18 tackles total and consistently produced as a mid-level pass rusher. As long as Irvin isn’t asked to operate off the line of scrimmage and in space, he can be an improvement on Kendricks.
Where it could go wrong
It’s simple: the personnel is fantastic but what will the coaching be? If the Seahawks repeat 2019’s attachment to base defense, Wright and Wagner could both get exposed while the team wastes parts of a secondary that is potentially six or seven players deep. Otherwise, only health could derail this group.
On balance, Wright and Wagner remain a superb duo, with Brooks and Barton providing depth and long-term security. The SAM linebacker position has been filled much more naturally with Irvin. They are extremely well-positioned for the present and future—Seattle just has to stay out of their own way this season.