The Legion of Boom has all but disbanded, but thanks to the play and leadership of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, Seattle's defense has hardly missed a beat
By Jeffri Chadiha | Publsihed Nov. 13, 2018
RENTON, Wash. -- They munched on juicy ribeye steaks, nibbled on sumptuous portions of mashed potatoes and sipped expensive red wine. They talked about family, upcoming vacations and how quickly the new NFL season would be upon them. There were more than 40 Seahawks players crammed into that dimly lit steakhouse in downtown Bellevue back in June, all hoping to enjoy a night on the town before their final organized team activities ended. The person who relished the evening most was the man working the room, drifting in and out of various conversations, doing his best to connect with all his teammates.
Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner knew there would be few opportunities during the offseason to get the entire Seahawks defense together. So, he and outside linebacker K.J. Wright planned and paid for that event just to ensure some good vibes for the future. The way Wagner envisioned it, that dinner would be the perfect chance to deliver a vital message -- that unity would be critical to whatever this team accomplished in the fall. As linebacker Barkevious Mingo said recently, "It was a way to say we're in this together, this is who this team is going to be made up of, that we're brothers. And that when things get hard, we know who to look to."
It wasn't that long ago the Seahawks defense had an abundance of Pro Bowl-caliber players to call on when it came to leadership, a group that included defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and defensive backs like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the latter of whom held out until the start of the regular season and then went on injured reserve with a broken leg sustained in a Week 4 win over Arizona. Now Wagner, a seventh-year veteran, is the lone undisputed star of the bunch. It's a role that he's quite comfortable in, because he's been a dominant force since he entered the league as a second-round draft pick out of Utah State in 2012. The only difference this year, as Wagner clearly understood with that team dinner, is that the Seahawks need his calming presence more than ever.
Seattle appeared destined for a major rebuild after losing so many notable players from a franchise that won one Super Bowl (XLVIII), narrowly lost in another (XLIX) and made the playoffs in each of Wagner's first five seasons. However, the Seahawks currently are battling to keep their postseason hopes alive as they head into this week's Thursday night game with Green Bay. At 4-5, the Seahawks desperately need a win after close losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams. Their schedule won't get any easier after the Packers, as they travel to Carolina on Nov. 25.
A huge key to Seattle's success will be the play of the 28-year-old Wagner, who's been up to the challenge of teaching old standards to new faces. "I've always believed the middle linebacker was the guy who ran the show," Wagner said. "As soon as they let me start calling the plays (as a rookie), I felt like this was my defense. We had a bunch of great leaders around here, and I was the person in the middle trying to control everything. But I never looked at it like, when those guys left, this was mine now. I saw it as just being my turn to maintain the level we've had over the last few years."
Seattle doesn't look like a team that has lost so much talent on defense. Even after giving up 25 and 36 points the last two weeks to the Chargers and Rams, respectively, the Seahawks are allowing 21.3 points (ninth in the NFL) and 346.9 total yards (12th) per game. They haven't been as sturdy against the run -- their average of 118.6 yards per game ranks 18th -- but Wagner has been a major reason behind this unit's early success. To understand just how good he's been, Pro Football Focus graded him as the top-rated middle linebacker in the league when it issued its midseason evaluations, and his current grade of 86.7 is tied with Carolina's Luke Kuechly for the highest among all linebackers with 300 snaps.
Furthermore, according to PFF, Wagner hasn't missed a single tackle on 69 attempts this season, a year after missing just three in 133 chances. Of the 126 defenders with 75-plus attempted tackles last season, Wagner missed the lowest percentage (2.3 percent).