RENTON, Wash. — Sun’s out, guns out?
Based on the first week of Seattle Seahawks training camp, first-round pick Jordyn Brooks is actually more of a sky’s out, thighs out kind of guy. Brooks has been hard to miss, partly because of the impressive speed that helped make him the 27th overall pick.
And also because of his attire: exceedingly short shorts that show off a pair of hulking legs.
“He really looks the part,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s got a great body. He’s built differently than we’ve seen guys. He’s really big [in his] legs and hips and butt. Really low center of gravity, really powerful guy and he’s very quick and explosive. He’s already shown that a number of times. He’s shown some really good instincts playing off blockers, which is not always a natural thing. But he uses his hands real well.
“He’s made really a really good first impression. He looks the part all the way.”
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So, how will the Seahawks get Brooks on the field?
It’s one of the bigger questions hanging over training camp given the Seahawks’ logjam at linebacker, where they have more starting-caliber players than starting spots.
When the Seahawks made Brooks their latest surprise first-round pick, they did so with the belief that he could play all three linebacker spots in Carroll’s 4-3 defense. But they want to start him off on the weak side, where they like him the most.
That has been K.J. Wright‘s position for the better part of the past nine years, save for occasional stints at the other two. All-Pro Bobby Wagner is entrenched in the middle. The Seahawks brought back Bruce Irvin to play strongside linebacker on early downs, then rush the passer as a defensive end in nickel; that dual role he filled for most of his first stint with Seattle.
Earlier in the offseason, the Seahawks weren’t sure when the 31-year-old Wright would make it back from shoulder surgery, but he avoided the physically unable to perform list, and he has been practicing since the start of camp after making what Carroll described as a “marvelous return.” Brooks has spelled him occasionally, but Wright took part in the team’s first padded practice on Monday, an indication that his surgically repaired shoulder could be ready for Seattle’s Sept. 13 opener at the Atlanta Falcons.
So it doesn’t appear that Wright’s health will open the door for Brooks to start nor does it sound as though a position switch will, either. The Seahawks considered moving Wright to the strong side, and while Carroll said Wright could move there if needed, it’s not in their current plans. Besides, Carroll considers Irvin to be the best strongside linebacker he has had in his 10 seasons in Seattle.
It all points to a competition on the weak side between Brooks and Wright, who is coming off a resurgent season. A factor the Seahawks will consider is the $10 million cap charge Wright carries in the second and final year of the $14 million deal he signed last offseason. In the cold world of the NFL, the Seahawks could view their longest-tenured player and franchise cornerstone as prohibitively expensive if Brooks is ready to play.
Of Wright’s $10 million cap charge, $1 million is money he already earned by remaining on Seattle’s roster past March 22. Teams rarely cut players after the trigger dates of their roster bonuses, but it isn’t unheard of. Cutting Wright would mean $3.5 million in dead money and $6.5 million in net savings, both in cash and against the cap.
It also would go over like a lead balloon with veterans such as Wagner and Irvin, particularly after the bounce-back season Wright had last year, following an injury-plagued 2018. Wright played in all 18 games (including playoffs) and was every bit as productive as he was in 2016, when he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod. He set a new career high in tackles with 132 to move into third place behind Wagner and Eugene Robinson on the franchise’s all-time list.
“K.J. was amazing this year,” Wagner said at the end of last season. “It was really, really amazing to see because … there was a lot of people writing him off … a lot of people thinking that he was done, thinking that he wasn’t going to come back to the form that he was after the injury. And he came back and had a career year all over the field, whether it’s interceptions, tackles, pass breakups, leadership, just being a guy that the young guys and myself can go to and lean on.
“He was an amazing person before, and just watching him battle through that, I definitely have even more respect for him. I didn’t think I could have more. So he’s an amazing person, amazing teammate, amazing friend.”
Another possibility is Wright hanging onto his starting job but sharing time with Brooks. The Seahawks didn’t draft Brooks as high as they did just to redshirt him, but they won’t hand him anything, especially with a revered player like Wright in front of him.
“He’s learning,” Carroll said of Brooks. “We’re really trying to get him to really grove into how we practice so his mentality is really on it every step of every day. He doesn’t have a chance to do this unless he’s really into it the whole time. For him to get a chance to play early in the season, he’s going to have to have a great camp. He’s off to a good start.”