Bobby Wagner does boxing.
He does MMA.
He does swimming.
He does yoga.
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He does massages.
That, he says, is why Bobby Wagner does tackling better than any Seahawk ever has.
“I feel like I’ve been taking care of my body way better than I’ve taken care of it in the last years. I’ve finally got a routine with massages and yoga and swimming and all these different things that I do. I think that’s helped me not get hurt.”
That alone has made a huge, record-pace difference.
Injuries have nagged or sidelined him the previous three years. This season not only has Wagner not missed a game, he has missed only one snap on defense. That was Oct. 23 at Arizona, when he and teammates got so dehydrated while playing 95 snaps in the overtime tie they got intravenous fluids during and after the game.
He and K.J. Wright are Seattle’s unique linebacker duo that is versatile enough to stay on the field even when the Seahawks go to a nickel defense with extra backs.
Wagner is the NFL’s leader in tackles. He has 88 stops in his last seven games. That’s 12.5 tackles per game – more than the rate of 12.2 Chris Spielman sustained in the 1994 season for the Detroit Lions to set the unofficial NFL season record for tackles at 195.
His 16 tackles three weeks ago in the Monday night win over Buffalo were the most in a game in his five-year career.
With the Seahawks blitzing him more up the middle this season, Wagner has 108 tackles through 10 games. That’s already more than he had in his entire 2014 regular season – when he was an All-Pro for the first and only time. He’s well on his way to breaking his career high of 140 tackles as a rookie in 2012.
He’s on pace for 173 tackles entering Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay (5-5). Terry Beeson owns the Seahawks’ season record, 153 tackles in 1978. That was the Seahawks’ third season in existence. That was the also the year the NFL began playing a 16-game regular season.
“He continues to create big plays,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s making plays in the backfield, really kind of standout hits and tackles to go along with all the numbers that he’s getting. He had three, I think, tackles in the backfield (last weekend in the win over Philadelphia). Just great plays and great tackles and highlight hits.”
Carroll says it’s because of more than just Wagner’s boxing and MMA and swimming and yoga and massages.
“That’s due to his ability to diagnose plays better than ever. He’s better than he’s ever been. He’s smarter, sharper, more aware of taking advantage of the teaching and game plan and all of that.
“You’re just seeing a guy really hitting it right. He’s really on it.”
And not on a training table as much.
Last season, his ankle bothered him in September. Then as October became November, he played through a pectoral injury.
In 2014, he finished an October home loss to Dallas with a painful turf-toe injury, then missed the next five games.
The year before that, he missed a game with an ankle injury and also had a sore knee. That 2013 season was the one that opened the league’s eyes to how athletic – and vital – Wagner was to Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl that season, smashing Denver 43-8 with a defense Wagner anchored with his combination of speed and hitting most middle linebackers don’t have.
Wagner got criticized by some for not keeping pace.
This summer, the NFL Network listed its top 100 players. Wagner wasn’t one of them.
He lashed back on social media against his haters, and specifically the top-100 snub, with one word: “Disrespect.”
The chip that has motivated him into each stage of his football life was back.
Coming out of Colony High School in Ontario, Calif., he was labeled a mere two-star recruit. At Utah State, he thought he was the best middle linebacker in college football, and for the 2012 draft should have been a first-round pick.
But largely, he feels, because he was from Utah State he didn’t get drafted until the second round – by Carroll and the Seahawks.