Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Commanders players gravitating to Wagner's experience, leadership

05222024 P3 Practice KC53734

Bobby Wagner isn't new to the whole leadership thing. He's been thrust into that role for his entire NFL career, starting with a defense that was one of the best in NFL history, and full of personalities trying to catch him slipping up.

"I had a lot of characters in my huddle," Wagner said of his time with the Seattle Seahawks. "The first couple weeks, they just made fun of everything they could. My neck, my biceps, my shirt was too tight."

You will not catch anyone in the Washington Commanders' defensive huddle cracking jokes at Wagner's expense. He came to the DMV as one of the most decorated linebackers in the NFL, recording at least 100 tackles in all 12 years of his career and earning 10 All-Pro honors and nine Pro Bowl selections. That's a level of productivity that Washington has not had on defense since London Fletcher, who played the final seven years of his career with the Burgundy & Gold.

Other than upgrading a position group that desperately needed it, Wagner's presence provides the Commanders with an example of how to have a long and successful career. He's willing to pass along that information, and his teammates on both sides of the ball are eager to learn.

"Man, he just brings a winning presence, a winning culture, the way he works every day," said defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. "When you see a guy like that, in year 13, first-ballot Hall of Famer, work as hard as he does, there's really no excuse for anybody else."

Wagner, who has started all but two of the 185 games he's played in, has had plenty of time to develop his leadership skills. He has observed his position coach, Ken Norton Jr., who he has mentioned as his favorite coach in his career because of how he approaches the position, and he was surrounded by players like Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman early in his career. He's also had conversations with other all-time great linebackers like Ray Lewis and Mike Singletary, both Hall of Famers who were considered consummate leaders for their respective teams.

All those perspectives have allowed Wagner to create a leadership style that is completely his own. Asked about whether Wagner leads vocally or by example, head coach Dan Quinn said both.

"[He] pulls somebody to the side to discuss it, thinks about it in this way, but he does it in his own way as a leader."

That can include players on either side of the ball. During a recent closed practice, Wagner said guard Sam Cosmi would pull on a play. So, after the play was over, Cosmi asked Wagner what gave it away.

"I was trying to disguise it," Cosmi said. "I asked him what he saw, and he was like, 'You were leaning.'"

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders taking the field for the second week of OTAs.

Wagner's leadership doesn't always have to focus on how to get better on the field. He's only missed 10 of a possible 195 games in 12 years, and as one of the oldest active players in the league who also happens to be the leader in combined tackles among active players, he's developed a routine that enables him to be not only available, but productive.

Fellow linebacker Frankie Luvu called Wagner "a treasure box."

"You never know what you're going to get with him," Luvu said. "He's always there to try and help out the young guys."

The biggest thing Luvu has learned from Wagner so far: his habits.

"He's big on routine," Luvu said. "How he takes care of his body, how he watches tape, how he's eating. It makes me in year seven look at that and say he's doing that at a high level right now. Why not stick to that?"

And Luvu has added some of those habits to his own routine. He will stay behind after practice with Wagner to refine some areas he needs to improve upon. Lately, Luvu has been working on knowing receivers' split and field awareness.

Wagner is also happy to provide pointers whenever he is asked about them.

"A lot of things that you can't learn from youth, you can learn from experience," Wagner said. "So...give that insight, things that I did in my rookie year, my second year and third year, try to have you avoid some of those mistakes, I think that's probably the biggest thing."

Getting to know his new teammates, and figuring out how he can lead them, is part of that.

"I think that's the biggest thing is creating that rapport," Wagner said. "Football is gonna be football, but it's the teams that grow the closest...that I feel are the ones at the end of the season that are happy with the results."

Related Content