Seahawks training camp preview: More questions than ever in secondary
The Seahawks kick off training camp on July 25 and there’s plenty to sort out in the weeks leading up to the August 31 roster cutdown deadline. Today’s position preview focuses on the secondary, which enters 2019 facing more questions than ever.
Safety Bradley McDougald is leading the way for this group heading into 2019. He was Seattle’s most consistent defensive back last year and one of its unquestionable starters. He tied for first in interceptions (three), third in passes defended (nine) behind just Bobby Wagner and Justin Coleman, and was second only to Wagner in tackles (78). McDougald missed out on playing time this offseason while he recovered from surgery to repair a partially-torn patellar tendon – an injury, it should be noted, that he played through for half a season. However, he’s expected to return to the field for training camp.
Entering his biggest season yet is third-year cornerback Shaquill Griffin. This will be Griffin’s second year at left cornerback, the role vacated when Richard Sherman was released. There was plenty of buzz around Griffin following an impressive rookie debut, but whether from high expectations or a drop in performance, most critics saw his sophomore season as a step back. Griffin appears to be taking his goal of improvement seriously: Griffin told Bob, Groz and Tom that he’s lost about 12 pounds since the close of last season.
Jalen Harvey, Marwin Evans, Marquise Blair, Ugo Amadi, Jamar Taylor, and Davante Davis are all new additions in 2019. Blair and Amadi were both draft picks. Evans, 26, was signed to the practice squad ahead of Seattle’s Wild Card game in January. Taylor, 28, was signed as a free agent in May, while Harvin and Davis were added as undrafted rookie free agents.
You could make a case for both starting corners, but ultimately the best shot for a strong first impression could be Blair, the safety the Seahawks drafted out of Utah in the second round earlier this year. Head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have praised Blair for his hard-hitting style, but he also boasted the second-highest coverage grade in the Pac-12 last year. Complicating matters is a hamstring injury Blair sustained during the offseason. The Seahawks placed the rookie on the preseason PUP list earlier this week (though unlike the regular season PUP list, Blair can be removed from the preseason PUP list at any time). July’s training camp should provide some clarification on his recovery timeline.
To be honest, the toughest part of this preview was narrowing this section down to a single question. Will Griffin take a step forward? Or, for that matter, could Tre Flowers take a step back from what was a promising debut last year? Will McDougald be hampered following surgery to repair his patellar tendon? Who will make up the other half of Seattle’s safety tandem? Will Blair be the hard-hitter long prided by Carroll, or will he start the season on the PUP list?
Perhaps the performance expected of Seattle’s defensive backs is what makes this position group feel so murky. This secondary – a hallmark of Carroll’s defense – was headed up by a trio of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros for the bulk of Carroll’s tenure and still featured safety Earl Thomas until last September. While four starters from 2018 will make a return this year (McDougald, Thompson, Griffin, and Flowers) the group faces high expectations and remains overshadowed by a once-dominant unit that carried little, if any, uncertainty.
It’s rare to find a group like Seattle’s Super Bowl defense, and anyone wondering whether Griffin will become the next Richard Sherman or whether Blair can replace Kam Chancellor won’t find an answer this year. It will be interesting to see whether or not Carroll can craft another stout group of defensive backs, but even without Pro Bowl nods, a step forward for all starters could be enough to keep Seattle competitive in close games. Griffin gave himself a “D” for his performance this year, saying the team needed more splash plays from a number one cornerback. Can he provide them in 2019? Carroll praised Flowers’ ability to attack the ball – he tied McDougald and Frank Clark for most forced fumbles (three) in 2018 – and he seemed on the verge of getting an interception by the close of the season. Can he take that next step and make a play on the ball?
Roster-wise, the biggest battle will be at nickel corner and at the safety spot opposite McDougald. McDougald’s ability to play both strong and free safety means the competition is open to both Lano Hill and Tedric Thompson, as well as Blair and fellow rookie Ugo Amadi.