What’s new for Bobby Wagner in the Seahawks defense from his 1st Seattle go-round? Plenty

For 10 years, he was in the middle of the same Seahawks defense.

He didn’t have to study. He really didn’t have to learn. He knew coach Pete Carroll’s 4-3 scheme better than any other player. He called it, every play, for a decade. Through two Super Bowls. Six All-Pro selections. Eight Pro Bowl teams. And Seattle’s only NFL title, to end the 2013 season.

Wagner and Carroll had Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and the famed Legion of Boom secondary run the same cover: Cover 3, single-high, deep-safety zone with press coverage by cornerbacks outside.

Every team in the league knew what Seattle was running. The Seahawks’ Jimmys and Joes were just better than anyone else’s Xs and Os — and Jimmys and Joes.

“I feel like before when I was here early on in my career and things of that nature, we ran a lot of Cover 3. And that’s pretty much what we were in the whole time,” Wagner said Monday.

No more.

All is different for Wagner, for Carroll and for Seattle’s defense.

Pete Carroll’s changes

The biggest difference to the unit Wagner left after 10 years following the 2022 season and the defense he is returning back to, signed for 2023 after his one year away with the Los Angeles Rams? Carroll and Seattle run all kinds of schemes now.

These Seahawks aren’t good enough to just line up in the same defense and beat you with the players’ talent and bravado.

The Legion of Boom is a mere memory — and only for Wagner and Carroll. They are the lone remaining members of Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl champion team still on the squad 10 years later.

“You know, when you’re sitting in the indoor, and you see all those names that was on (the Super Bowl-champion) team (on a banner in there) and where it’s at now, it definitely crosses your mind. But you know, it’s evolution,” Wagner said. “So I always felt like I was going to be, God willing, one of the ones that got to be around for a long time, so here we are.”

Bobby Wagner is back. The 32-year-old, six-time All-Pro linebacker returned to the Seahawks after a year away with the Los Angeles Rams, and stood out in the first practice of Seattle’s nine organized team activities (OTAs) in Renton May 22, 2023.

When asked to describe the defense he’s called one OTA practice into his Seattle return compared to the one he called from 2012-22, Wagner said: “Mixed coverages.”

Now: It’s Cover 2, with two safeties deep. It’s Cover 4, with each of four defensive backs responsible for a quarter of the field in zone. It’s Cover 6, with quarters, quarters and half-field coverage. It’s man to man. It’s zone. It’s man-zone mixed.

Last year Carroll changed his base from from a 4-3 he ran since Richard Nixon was president — that is, the 1970s — to a 3-4. The primary pass rushers are no longer waves of ends and tackles along a deep defensive line as it was in front of Wagner for a decade but outside linebackers.

Bobby Wagner’s new friends

With Darrell Taylor not present Monday for the first practice of nine organized team activities over the next three weeks, Uchenna Nwosu and 2022 draft choice Boye Mafe were the edge pass rushers as outside linebackers. The team drafted 254-pound Derick Hall in the third round out of Auburn this month to be another edge-rushing outside linebacker.

In his first 10 years with Carroll and Seattle, Wagner stayed primarily between the hash marks, in the center of the intermediate pass defense covering tight ends and crossing routes.

And Monday in the first OTA practice, Wagner was lined out to the sideline boundary opposite rookie running back Kenny McIntosh in man coverage. The next play, he raced outside left to pick up rookie back Zach Charbonnet on the second-round pick’s swing route.

“So I think that’s just the difference is more a mixture of coverages, versus just sticking to one,” Wagner said.

He turns 33 next month. An inside linebacker entering his 12th season coverage more, not less, ground with more, not less, responsibility after a year away?

Just one of the many questions on how this overhaul Carroll is making to Seattle’s defensive front seven from its failed 2022 is going to work in 2023.

“This is the time to build a defense and so we are just trying new looks, new formations,” Wagner said of offseason practices, “and I’m excited to just learn and get to know everybody again.”

What’s also different for Wagner this time with the Seahawks: He has an inside linebacker partner.

In Carroll’s and Wagner’s old Seahawks 4-3, Wagner was the lone inside, middle “Mike” linebacker. He had K.J. Wright at strongside and Bruce Irvin, among others, at weakside linebacker.

Now, instead of the retired Wright, Devin Bush is Wagner’s partner. Signed as a free agent in March from Pittsburgh, Bush is next to Wagner as the second inside linebacker. That’s at least until or through Jordyn Brooks returns in some months from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee in January.

Bush was known as a prolific run stopper and tackler for the Steelers. He’s the only Pittsburgh player to have more than 100 tackles as a rookie. Then in his second NFL season, in 2020, Bush tore the ACL in his knee. His play and status in the Steelers defense changed after that.

“It’s cool: When he got drafted (10th overall by the Steelers in 2019), we had a chance to have some conversations a little bit,” Wagner said of Bush. “Being able to work with him and be on the field with him and pass down the knowledge that I have has been fun.”

The Seahawks had one of the worst run defenses in team history last season. Much of the year, Seattle was allowing more than 170 rushing per game, which had it ended that way would have been the worst such mark in franchise history.

Carroll signed back Wagner and signed Bush to reverse that result. Eventually, by September.

“Again, I’m excited to get out there and play, put some pads on and just stop,” Wagner said.

“This time (during OTAs), it’s really for the offense. We’re just kind of in the way.”

Brooks is away from these OTAs, back in Texas rehabilitating from his injury and surgery.

Brooks replaced Wagner last season as Seattle’s inside and signal-calling linebacker. Wagner made it clear Monday he will be wearing the helmet with the green dot on it this coming season indicating he has the communications device in his helmet to call the defenses.

“Yeah, that’s my takeaway,” he said. “A lot of people can have the green dot. But I will be the guy, for sure.”