"That No. 54, Bobby, man, he's ... fast as ... man." —San Francisco running back Frank Gore
RENTON, Wash. — As is usually the case with Richard Sherman, the politicking on behalf of Seattle teammate Bobby Wagner came completely unscripted.
"Hopefully, this year will be the year that Bobby gets his Pro Bowl. Bobby Wagner, Pro Bowl, a lot of tackles," Sherman said recently. "We're going to get Bobby in the game this year."
Between Sherman's campaign strategy and the colorful description San Francisco running back Frank Gore used this week to describe Wagner's skill, the Seahawks middle linebacker is receiving plenty of attention and praise.
It seems completely justified. After two solid seasons in the middle of Seattle's defense, Wagner is playing at an elite level in his third year. If not for a painful toe injury suffered in Week 6 against Dallas that caused him to miss five games, Wagner would likely be in the discussion among defensive player of the year candidates.
Or as Gore said on a conference call this week, using some choice language, "That No. 54, Bobby, man, he's ... fast as ... man."
The impact Wagner was making on Seattle's defense wasn't fully recognized until he was sidelined after tearing the tendon that connects his big toe to the bottom of his foot. He suffered the injury in the first half of Seattle's loss to Dallas, but returned to play in the second half.
It was the only game he's played this season where Wagner did not lead or was tied for the team lead in tackles.
"I wouldn't say it matters, but I definitely appreciate it a lot, because it's people recognizing you for your talents," Wagner said of getting recognition from others. "But to say I'm driven by that, I wouldn't say that. I'd rather win like 30 Super Bowls."
More than any other attribute, Wagner's speed in recognizing plays is showing up more this season. His pure speed was one of the skills that made Wagner stand out when he was coming out of Utah State and made Seattle comfortable putting him in the starting lineup as a rookie. That speed his first season made up for what Wagner did not know yet about the NFL.
At this point, Wagner has found the right mix between his pure speed and the quickness in recognizing what the offense is doing.
"I think my rookie year I was just out there, I just wanted to be out there and have fun. Maybe my sophomore year I was thinking a little too much because I wanted to be perfect, but I think everybody goes through that stretch," Wagner said. "Rookie year you get out there and want to make as many plays as possible, then second year you want to be perfect, and then you kind of find a combination between the two — making a lot of plays and trying to be as perfect as possible."
Not surprisingly, Wagner's return has coincided with Seattle's stretch of stout defense that's among the best the league has seen in recent seasons. Wagner returned three weeks ago when Seattle beat Arizona at home 19-3 and limited the Cardinals to 204 total yards. Five days later on Thanksgiving night against San Francisco, Wagner had 10 tackles in the Seahawks' 19-3 victory.
And last week in Philadelphia, the Seahawks held the Eagles to 139 total yards and just 18:04 time of possession in Seattle's 24-14 win. Again, Wagner was at the top of the stat sheet with seven tackles.
Wagner's return allowed Seattle to move K.J. Wright back to outside linebacker and, combined with the returns of safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Byron Maxwell, finally put the Seahawks defense back in order.
"If there is anything that you should have witnessed here in the last month is that our team speed picked up," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "You can see us playing faster as we're going and that's in the continuity, that's in the communication, that's in the confidence from being together and being out there. We're hoping it can happen again one more time this week."
NOTES: Seattle signed DL David King off Cincinnati's practice squad and released LB Allen Bradford on Thursday. King has spent parts of the past two seasons on the Bengals practice squad. ... C Max Unger (ankle/knee) and TE Cooper Helfet (ankle) were both limited in practice after sitting out Wednesday's practice.