DANNY AND GALLANT
Which Seahawks veterans are on the ‘hot seat’ going into 2020 season?
As we see in the NFL every season, young players or players brought in through free agency or trades join teams and overtake familiar faces. With the Seahawks, it certainly looks like that could be happening for 2020, especially on defense.
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So which players are at risk of losing playing time? 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant pointed to three defensive players who could see their playing time cut this upcoming season.
Linebacker K.J. Wright
The biggest name on this list, Wright is the Seahawks’ longest-tenured player having been with the team since 2011.
Wright, 30, signed a two-year deal last offseason and set career-highs with 132 tackles as well as three interceptions and 11 pass defenses. But two young, highly drafted linebackers could cut into Wright’s playing time next season.
Seattle drafted Cody Barton in the third round in 2019 and spent a first-round pick on Jordyn Brooks in the most recent draft.
When the Seahawks run three linebacker sets, or base defense, Wright would play weakside linebacker while Bobby Wagner manned the middle. When Seattle moved to nickel sets, Wright would typically stay on the field and whoever the strongside linebacker was would leave in favor of the extra cornerback. Could Wright move positions and, in turn, lose snaps?
“K.J. Wright, along with Cody Barton and Jordyn Brooks, I think is in an interesting spot because we don’t know what position he’ll play,” Paul Gallant said.
Complicating matters is Wright had recent shoulder surgery and it’s unclear what his timetable is. Danny O’Neil thinks Wright will ultimately slide to the strongside spot for 2020.
“I wonder what the fit for K.J. is because I think with the two fast linebackers that they have, and especially with Jordyn Brooks’ speed, it would surprise me if they weren’t in the weakside linebacker spot,” he said. ” … I do think we’ll see more of K.J. Wright at strongside linebacker. I don’t think that Cody Barton or Jordyn Brooks is going to be a natural fit there, though I think both can play it.”
Additionally, Wright could lose playing time in nickel packages if Barton or Brooks is the second linebacker along with Wagner.
“Is that going to be a Jordyn Brooks role? Or is that going to be Cody Barton’s spot? Or do you go with the veteran in K.J. Wright?” O’Neil said. “How well does he run? How well does he move? Shoulder isn’t a question for me. It’s entirely about how fast he moves.”
Safety Bradley McDougald
The Seahawks didn’t draft any players in the secondary, but they did spend a second-round pick on safety Marquise Blair in the 2019 draft. He started a few games at safety during the middle of the year, but after an in-season trade for Quandre Diggs, Blair was used almost exclusively on special teams.
Diggs’ starting spot doesn’t appear to be in question due to the team’s vast improvement with him on the field, but Gallant and O’Neil think fellow starting safety Bradley McDougald could be on his way to the bench.
McDougald, 29, is entering the final year of his deal and while he’s been a consistent contributor the last few seasons, Blair adds a lot of speed and thump to the defense.
“Yes we could (see Blair overtake McDougald as a starter), and in many ways, that’s what I hope happens,” O’Neil said. “Not because I have anything against McDougald, but because they need to get Blair on the field. I thought when we saw Blair on the field last year, the hits he made and the plays, it jumped out.”
An example of that came in Week 8 against the Atlanta Falcons. Blair had 11 tackles, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. But once Diggs was healthy, Blair moved to a reserve role. O’Neil thinks for the defense to improve, the Seahawks need to give the young Blair a chance because he has a lot of potential, whereas you know what you’re getting out of McDougald.
“I know the coaches had a reason for not getting him on the field more and I think that had to do with a fear of mistakes and that he was learning on the job,” O’Neil said. ” … The defense needs to get better. Is Bradley McDougald going to get better at this point of his career? He’s a veteran and he’s had a good career and he still has years left … he’s not going to get better and if you want a defense to get better, you’ve got to give young guys opportunities and the young guy here is Marquise Blair, who is their highest-drafted secondary member since Earl Thomas.”
Cornerback Tre Flowers
Cornerback Tre Flowers, 24, is entering his third NFL season and has started all but two games during his career, but he struggled down the stretch in his play and with penalties.
The Seahawks have a returning Pro Bowl corner in Shaquill Griffin and they also acquired Quinton Dunbar, Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked cornerback in the NFL for 2019, from the Washington Redskins.
“I think we both believe Quinton Dunbar is going to see more playing time than him this coming season, right?” Gallant said. ” … I think Tre Flowers is going to be fighting to make the roster this year.”
O’Neil wouldn’t go quite that far.
“He’ll be on the team. I do think that’s going to be the best battle for a starting spot because, you’re right, Quinton Dunbar is someone that they like an awful lot and someone who was emerging (as a top corner in the league),” O’Neil said. ” … But I’m not going to put it past Tre Flowers to make a jump similar to the jump Shaquill Griffin made last year.”
After impressing as a rookie in 2017, Griffin didn’t take the necessary next step forward in 2018. That changed last year when he improved his play and earned his first career Pro Bowl nod. If Flowers were to make an improvement like his teammate, he could still keep his starting spot.
“I think Tre Flowers has everything you need to be a great corner right until the moment of truth when the ball gets there and I don’t know if he’s going to get better at that,” O’Neil added.
There were times when Flowers would still be in position to defend a pass or even intercept it, but he would make unnecessary contact with the receiver and draw a penalty. Head coach Pete Carroll told reporters that it was something Flowers needed to clean up.
“If he can get rid of it, I think it changes the course of his career,” O’Neil said.
And even if Flowers loses his outside corner job to Dunbar, he could see playing time in another way.
“I’m also curious to see if Flowers get potentially an opportunity to compete for that nickel corner spot if things don’t work for him as an outside corner,” Gallant said.
Listen to the full conversation at this link of in the player below at the 24:02 mark.
Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil and Paul Gallant on Twitter.
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