One might expect someone from Olive Branch, Miss., to be a natural peacemaker. But NFL linebackers are not paid to be pacifists.
And second-year Seahawk K.J. Wright has played with such aggressiveness early in training camp that his tackles have established a drum-beat tempo for the practices, and perhaps even for the season.
On the Hawks’ first day in pads early this week, for instance, Wright was such a destructive force that his hits could be categorized by the sounds they made.
The one against stout running back Robert Turbin had two-beats to it, a KA-thunk that rose from the initial shot followed by Turbin’s crumpling.
But the one on receiver Antonio Bryant had the one-note sonic blast of a detonation.
It inspired linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., a noted connoisseur of such matters, to shout warnings to the offensive players: “This is a contact sport … this is a contact sport.”
The actual famed quote on the matter, attributed to Vince Lombardi and others, suggests that dancing is a contact sport; football is a collision sport. If you want to quibble with Norton on the matter, be my guest.
The point is, it was Wright who reminded everyone on the field what the game is all about and how it should be played.
“I felt like I needed to come out and make a statement,” Wright said. “It’s the first time we’re out in pads and I have to let these young guys know that’s time to come out hitting. There’s no other way to think about it.”
You may scoff at Wright, having turned 23 just before the start of practice, offering opinions on what the “young guys” on the team need to learn, but he’s also making unmistakable statements about his level of comfort on the defense, and his readiness to be a leader.
And if I had to point to one young Seahawk on the verge of rising into a star, K.J. Wright would be my target.
“I’m very comfortable now,” he said. “I know the scheme, I know what the coaches expect of me, and I’m just trying to develop as a player; to understand more route combinations and make more tackles and more sacks and become a total package.”
He’s certainly imposing physically, and, at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he appears to still be growing.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2011 from Mississippi State, Wright caught the eye of Seahawks scouts with his long arms and rangy body. But his maturity and quick mastery of the defense caught them by surprise.
He started out as a backup to 2009 first-round pick Aaron Curry at strongside linebacker. But when middle linebacker David Hawthorne was injured, Wright was named starter in the middle for last year’s season opener.
And when Curry’s career fizzle seemed complete in a loss to Pittsburgh, the staff turned over his starting spot to the rookie Wright. He was so convincing as a starter that the Hawks traded Curry to Oakland.
The coaches didn’t just tout Wright’s instinctive play, but also his ability to learn on the fly. He made some of the typical rookie mistakes, they said, but he made each one only once.
“I can’t lie, I struggled at first last year,” Wright said. “It took me a while to learn the system, but they let me make my mistakes, and toward the end of the season it started to kick in for me and I think I had a good rookie year.”