Closing in on the start of the regular season, the Seahawks added two premier edge rushers to their defense with the healthy return of Ezekiel Ansah and recent acquisition of Jadeveon Clowney.
With Ansah and Clowney joining a front seven that already featured perennial All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner, Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright, and rising second year phenom Poona Ford, the Seahawks have instantly been pegged as one of the best defenses in the NFL.
But not so fast, according to Wagner, who has seen firsthand what happens when the cart gets ahead of the horse.
“I think we have a chance to be really good.” Wagner said, adding. “You kind of don’t want to get caught up in all the hype, as far as seeing all the names and seeing all the stuff.”
Just two short years ago, the Seahawks made a splashy deal similar to the one to land Clowney, trading a second-round pick and receiver Jermaine Kearse to the Jets for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Joining a unit that still featured “Legion of Boom” mainstays Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor as well as Wagner and Wright, Seattle’s defense was expected to return to the NFL’s elite.
Unfortunately, a variety of factors prevented the Seahawks from meeting lofty expectations. Sherman, Chancellor, and defensive end Cliff Avril suffered season-ending injuries, while Richardson produced just one sack in his lone season with the team.
Seattle wound up finishing 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, leading to an unprecedented roster purge the following spring headlined by releasing Sherman and allowing Richardson to walk as a free agent.
Wagner doesn’t think he and teammates bought into the hype too much, but the failures of that season still remain fresh in his mind and regardless of how much talent the Seahawks have amassed defensively, “you still have to do the work.”
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the team, we still have to make sure that we come out there, prepare, ready to go.”
Reservations aside, Wagner has plenty of reasons to believe Seattle’s defense can live up to expectations this time around, including outstanding chemistry on that side of the ball spearheaded by activities taking place off the field.
According to Wagner, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. created a competition where players had to learn about their teammates beyond football. Being forced to do so has made everyone closer and it’s made it easier to push teammates on the field with an enhanced understanding of one another on a personal level.
“I’m excited about this group, this is one of our closest groups. We spend a lot of time together, we’ve grown a lot together. I’m excited to see how our growth off the field turns out on the field.”
It’s way too early to know how Seattle will perform in 2019. With a number of new pieces such as Ansah and Clowney trying to integrate with their new team, it may take some time for the group to gel.
But if everything comes together as intended and the central focus remains on preparing for one game at a time, Wagner envisions a “tenacious” Seahawks squad taking the field each week, which should prevent recent history from repeating itself and put them in the mix to contend for an NFC West title.
“I think you’re going to see the way the defense gets after the ball, the way the offense attacks. It’s going to be pretty exciting football. The offense has a lot of weapons. Our line is great, Russ is great, our running backs are great, receivers are great, d-line is amazing, and our linebackers are pretty good too. I’m really excited to see all of that come together.”