When the Seahawks stepped on the field this week for OTAs — which, unlike the first two weeks, included most of the roster — they marked something of a bittersweet first.
For the first time since 2010, the first year of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider regime, linebacker K.J. Wright was not present at the organized team activities, remaining an unsigned free agent with no real indication that he will be back with the Seahawks.
Wright was the longest-tenured Seahawk last year, a fourth-round pick in 2011 who was the only player left on the roster predating the arrival of Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner.
His 144 games played are just off the team’s top 10 list while his 140 starts ranks 11th and his 15 playoff games is third in team history behind only Wilson and Wagner. Wright missed one playoff game due to injury in 2013.
But these OTAs also mark a first for Jordyn Brooks.
For Brooks and every other rookie from the Class of 2020, these OTAs are the first of their careers, teams having not been able to work on the field during the offseason program a year ago due to COVID-19 protocols.
“These have a lot of value,” Brooks said Tuesday following what was Seattle’s eighth OTA of its offseason program. “Not having an offseason last year was kind of difficult getting prepared for training camp, so it’s a cool day to get out here for OTAs and get an early start.”
Brooks is getting that “early start” at the spot that was Wright’s since 2013 — weakside linebacker. Wright played mostly strong linebacker his first two years.
Not that it’s a surprise. This was basically the plan when Brooks was somewhat of a surprise pick by Seattle 27th overall in the 2020 draft, that he would eventually take over for Wright. And likely sooner rather than later, especially with Wright’s offseason shoulder surgery in 2020.
But some wondered if, like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Wright threw something of a wrench into the succession plan when he turned in what some felt was one of the best seasons of his career while also bailing out the team when he played strongside linebacker once Bruce Irvin was lost for the season in Week 2.
For most of the rest of the year, Brooks started at WLB and Wright at SLB in the base defense.
But when the Seahawks went into nickel, Wright then moved back to WLB while Brooks went to the sideline in favor of an additional defensive back.
Given that nickel is the predominant defense of any NFL team these days, that meant Wright was still the team’s primary WLB.
Even after he became a full-time player, Brooks played as many as half of the snaps only three times in 11 games while Wright played 70% or more in all but one game.
But that won’t be the case this year as the full-time WLB spot is now Brooks — he worked there in the starting lineup during Tuesday’s OTAs alongside Wagner — with Darrell Taylor now in line to take over the SLB spot.
And while coach Pete Carroll said recently the door remains open for Wright to return, that appears to be a remote possibility, and something that would likely happen only a few months down the road if Seattle had a sudden need and Wright were still available.
In general, the thought is Seattle has decided it wants to move on with its younger players, which also means this isn’t an issue of cap space or money, simply how the organization wants to move forward.
But that means Brooks now being known as the player who is taking over for one of the organization’s most consistent and classiest players during its greatest run.
“I wouldn’t say there’s any pressure,” Brooks said. “But it’s definitely shoes to fill. K.J. had an outstanding career here. He set the bar high for sure. So it’s definitely no slack here. Just ready to get in and prove that I can do this.”
Brooks felt he began to do that the last three months when he finally was able to play full time after suffering a knee injury in Week 3 against Dallas that held him out of two games.
Brooks had two of his best three grades from Pro Football Focus in the last five games of the season and all five were better than his overall season grade of 47.6. PFF conclude that Brooks was a solid run defender in 2020 but among the worst in coverage among linebackers.
But the lack of not only an offseason program but the ability to play any preseason games undoubtedly contributed, especially in Brooks’ pass defense.
“It was a rough start having the injury,” Brooks said. “And then getting back the second half of the season I thought I finished pretty strong. And so now I’ve got some momentum coming into this year to feel good going in and just seeing where we can go from here.”
Brooks said his nutrition has improved and he feels he’s “slimmed down,” which might also help with pass coverage. Brooks also joked that Wagner has said he will continue to call him “rook” through eight games of this year, a number he portrayed as arbitrary.
But given the lack of a preseason a year ago and then the early injury, it also may be a pretty accurate description of where Brooks really is in his progress.
Brooks, though, sounded sage-like when asked what he’s working on most during OTAs.
“Everything,” he said. “Everything needs to be improved, top to bottom.”
Certainly, proving a worthy successor to Wright will take all of that and more.