Seahawks training camp questions: Who wins the nickel cornerback job?
The Seahawks have plenty of big questions to answer this offseason and while you can bet some of those will remain up in the air (who knows where Jadeveon Clowney will sign at this point?) a few can be settled in training camp. In fact, without any preseason games, the team will need to squeeze as much as they can out of August.
This series will answer five of the biggest questions the Seahawks face heading into training camp. And beginning August 17, 710 ESPN Seattle will air Two-A-Days: at 11:00 a.m. every morning, John Clayton will be joined by a special guest, and at 5:30 p.m. every day ex-Seahawks wide receiver Michael Bumpus will take over the 710 ESPN Seattle Instagram page for a live video chat.
On to our first question: Who’s competing at the nickel spot?
The Seahawks relied on their base defense more than any other team last year, and it wasn’t close. According to Football Outsiders, Seattle remained in base 69% of the time. That was far more than the next-closest team, the Arizona Cardinals (38%). Washington (34%), the Los Angeles Rams (34%), and Indianapolis (33%) round out the top five. Meanwhile, Baltimore (9%), Cleveland (12%) and New England (15%) were the most infrequent users.
In theory, leaning on base personnel allowed the Seahawks to keep their best players on the field; after all, in September the front-seven seemed loaded with talent (that didn’t work out). They also started out well enough against the run (that also didn’t last). But it’s not something the Seahawks have always relied on. When ex-Seahawks nickel Justin Coleman was in Seattle in 2018, the Seahawks were in base defense just 34% of the time. In 2017, it was 29%.
Since the end of last season, Carroll has hinted the team could use their nickel defense more in 2020 — and it’ll be tempting to do it, if only just to find a role for young, promising defensive backs. But which player will take over that job?
Amadi has been the frontrunner for this role and it seemed to be his job to lose – that was until the trade for Jamal Adams, which now has the team looking for a way to get 2019 second-round pick Marquise Blair on the field (more on him next).
Amadi, a 2019 fourth-round pick out of Oregon, won the job entering Week 1. After he suffered an arm injury, the team brought back nickel Jamar Taylor, and when Amadi returned to action most of his snaps came on special teams. But in November the Seahawks cut Taylor, which cleared the way for the rookie to regain the role.
“He was a nice factor late in the year playing the nickel spot,” Carroll said in a press conference last week. “He’s going to be there in coverage situations battling with Marquise.”
Amadi also appeared a favorite for the job because of his background at Oregon, where he played cornerback, nickel and safety.
The Seahawks used their second pick on Blair last year, but since that day they’ve made two trades to acquire starting safeties Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams. So, what to do with Blair?
The team is clearly intrigued by his hard-hitting style, and he’s certainly going to be in immediate competition with Amadi in camp.
“In the nickel package, he is going to get a lot of consideration to contribute in some additional ways because he’s unique and got some special stuff,” Carroll said.
“We’re really pumped up about this camp to figure that out (where to play Marquise). He’s the one who’s going to get the opportunity to get in on the slot and do some stuff that puts him in a position to be really active and be part of the pressure packaging and some real aggressive part of the play.”
Now for one of three wild cards. Dunbar will compete immediately with Tre Flowers for the starting right cornerback job and I’d guess now that’s where he’ll stay this season. But knowing Flowers has starting experience gives the Seahawks some flexibility should they ever choose to play Dunbar in the slot. Dunbar had his best season (2019) playing outside but has experience inside.
The Seahawks acquired Diggs midway through last season, but even in a short period of time the ex-Lions safety improved Seattle’s secondary and ended the season as a Pro Bowl alternate. He also brings quite a bit of versatility, though is a favorite to start at free safety rather than in the slot.
Dunbar is expected to win the starting job, but it doesn’t mean Flowers isn’t a good player. Carroll has always praised the way Flowers attacks the ball and – even if it’s unlikely – might want to find a way to get Flowers on the field by playing him in the slot.