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Carroll says Seahawks could use more nickel in 2020, including with Blair

The Seahawks may use safety Marquise Blair at nickel in 2020. (Getty)

Along with the lack of a consistent pass rush, one of the main stories of the Seahawks’ poor defense during the 2019 season was how often the team utilized their base defense of three linebackers and four defensive backs rather than implementing more nickel looks with five defensive backs.

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The trend of NFL offenses has been to use more three-receiver sets, and to counter that defensively, teams have used more and more nickel packages. In fact, the Seahawks were the only team to play more base defense than nickel last year according to Pro Football Focus.

Due to the defense’s struggles to stop opposing passing games in 2019, the questions that naturally come up are whether the Seahawks will use more nickel in 2020 and if so, who is going to be tasked with that role?

Head coach Pete Carroll spoke with members of the Seattle media on Thursday and talked about why the Seahawks used base defense so much in 2019 and what the thought process is going forward.

“We have real good stats on (base over nickel packages), so we know what we got out of what we did, but overall, we weren’t as effective as we’ve been,” Carroll said. “So when we get back on the field we (will) see how things fit together. A big part of that was some of the players that we had. We’ve always tried to draw from the strengths of our players and that was one of the reasons why we did that last year, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Last season, the strength of the Seahawks’ defense was at linebacker. All Pro Bobby Wagner manned the middle and to his left and right were longtime Seahawk K.J. Wright and veteran Mychal Kendricks.

And at nickel, the team wasn’t as flush with talent. Rookie Ugo Amadi was on the roster but didn’t see much time until later in the year and Jamar Taylor, a veteran, handled the duties for the first half of the year before he was released. Other players shuffled in like Akeem King got some playing time there as well.

According to Brady Henderson, who covers the Seahawks for ESPN.com, Seattle’s use of base over nickel actually makes sense because of the numbers against three-receiver sets when in that personnel over nickel.

But while the numbers are better for base over nickel in those situations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way the Seahawks will want to go again in 2020.

“We played those packages better than the nickel packages in the years past, but as that complemented all of our game and prepared us for all of our game, that’s the decision that we made as we see our players fit in,” Carroll said. ” … (Using more nickel) has been in discussion. All of that has been in the process of how we’re approaching this season so we can take advantage of the directions we may go depending on how the individuals contribute.”

Heading into 2020, the thought is that the nickel job is Amadi’s to lose. Carroll said as much earlier in the offseason, but another player that could be in the mix is fellow 2019 draft pick Marquise Blair, a safety who played mostly special teams and started a few games before trade acquisition Quandre Diggs was healthy and started playing. In three starts, Blair had 22 tackles and forced a fumble.

“Yes. As a matter of fact, he’s a guy we’re very interested in finding a role for him and we’ve already mapped that out,” Carroll said when asked if Blair could fight for playing time at nickel cornerback. “He’s got some real special talent and we want to find a spot for him not just to go along and complement the safety play that he’s going to play. So in the nickel package, he is going to get a lot of consideration to contribute in some additional ways because he’s unique and has got some special stuff.”

You can watch/listen to Carroll’s full press conference at this link.

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