Why 3 2019 defensive rookies need to step up for the Seahawks

Apr 9, 2020, 11:55 AM

Seahawks S Marquise Blair...

Danny O'Neil says Marquise Blair needs to step up for the Seahawks in 2020. (Getty)


The Seahawks were able to win a playoff game and advance to the NFC’s divisional round in 2019, but after a 10-2 start and having a chance to earn the conference’s top seed, Seattle earning a wild card playoff berth and losing to the Green Bay Packers by one score in the second round was ultimately a disappointment.

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The biggest issue on the team, by far, was the defense, which was the worst Seahawks defense since head coach Pete Carroll took over in 2010. Seattle gave up the seventh-most yards, 11th-most points and were tied for second-fewest sacks. Thankfully, Seattle had 32 turnovers, were amazing in one-score games, going 11-3 including the playoffs, and had a top offense, all of which helped cover up the defense’s deficiencies.

To take the next step, the Seahawks’ defense needs to improve. The team has key players in place such as All Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, cornerback Shaquill Griffin and safety Quandre Diggs among others. But it’s a trio of players who were rookies in 2019 that need to play critical roles in 2020, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil said.

“There are three guys on this defense – three guys – who need to play significant roles this year and if they don’t, it better be someone younger and more explosive that comes along and laps them,” O’Neil said. “It’s Ugo Amadi, it’s Marquise Blair and it’s Cody Barton.”

Blair, a safety, was selected in the second round, Barton, a linebacker, was a third-round pick and Amadi, a smaller cornerback, was drafted in the fourth round. All three contributed mightily on special teams in 2019 while also playing some defensive snaps.

Barton started at linebacker in two regular season games and both of Seattle’s playoff games, Blair started three games at safety before Diggs made his Seattle debut in Week 10 and Amadi saw more defensive snaps late in the season and in the playoffs at nickel corner.

Barton is expected to start next year as Mychal Kendricks is a free agent who is recovering from an ACL tear and awaits sentencing for insider trading. Blair could be thrust into starting action alongside Diggs if the team opts to cut starter Bradley McDougald for cap purposes. Amadi is seen as the favorite to be the Seahawks’ go-to nickel corner in 2020 and the team could opt to play more nickel defense in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Why is it so important to have the young guys in there next year? O’Neil said money plays a big role.

“Having an old, bad defense is the worst thing in the NFL. If you’re young and bad, at least you’re cheap,” he said. “Honestly, if you have an old and bad defense, it’s the worst. It’s expensive and it’s also not going to get better.”

While there is obviously a lot of time for those three to improve, the same can’t be said for most veteran players.

“You’re hoping that he sustains the level of play he has. And their best players on defense last year were guys at that level of ‘I hope he continues to play that way,'” O’Neil said to co-host Paul Gallant. “They need some young dudes, man. They need some young guys to come in … and if (those three) are not playing (in 2020) and this defense is bad, I’m going to have no explanation for why that is other than they must think that those guys just can’t play.”

A listener texted into the show and said a reason why the team may have been hesitant to play those three more last year is because the team was close to competing for a Super Bowl and couldn’t afford any “rookie mistakes.” O’Neil doesn’t think the 2019 team was as close to playing for a Super Bowl as people think.

“I think they’re a player or two away from winning one more playoff game than they did (last year),” he said, adding that the Seahawks are working towards being a team that is in the conversation for Super Bowls every year, rather than hoping they make the playoffs and get hot and go all the way, such as the 2012 Baltimore Ravens or the two New York Giants Super Bowl teams from 2007 and and 2011.

If they are able return to that conversation, which Carroll’s teams in the early- and mid-2010s were always a part of, the young guys need to step up.

“They’re going to need to get some thumpers on defense and it’s going to have to be the young guys because as we’re seeing in free agency, they don’t have the means to afford difference makers given what they’re paying the quarterback,” O’Neil said.

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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Bumpus: Hawks are smart to not pay top dollar for a pass rusher
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FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt: Draft prospects that would fit Hawks’ D
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