Salk: Seahawks need to let Marquise Blair play safety, not nickel corner
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll spoke to members of the media on Thursday and while most of the hour-long conversation was centered around the Black Lives Matter movement and Colin Kaepernick, Carroll was asked about his team and, of course, the defense heading into 2020.
After a lackluster 2019 season on that side of the ball, improvement is necessary if the Seahawks want to make it back to the NFC Championship and Super Bowl for the first time since the 2014 season.
Two issues that the defense had in 2019 that have been discussed at length were the lack of a pass rush and a tendency to play base defense with three linebackers rather than playing more nickel sets. Seattle played around 70% of defensive snaps with three linebackers, even though the league has shifted towards passing more and utilizing more three-receiver formations.
Part of that was the lack of a true nickel corner, and while 2019 rookie Ugo Amadi figures to be the guy at that position going forward, Carroll told reporters on Thursday that another 2019 rookie, safety Marquise Blair, could see playing time at that spot in 2020.
“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.”
Mike Salk of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk Podcast joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy on Friday and said he was disappointed when he heard Carroll say that because he thinks Blair should not only focus on being a safety, but he should be starting there alongside Quandre Diggs.
“I saw last night the idea that Pete wants him to compete at nickel back next year and I’m thinking to myself ‘this guy isn’t some schlub.’ This isn’t like some fifth rounder from a year ago that you’re hoping maybe can make a contribution and maybe get on the field in some specific spots,” Salk said. “This is your second-round pick that you took in order to make up for your failed picks a couple years earlier with both Tedric Thompson and Lano Hill.”
When the Seahawks drafted in 2017, they used four of their 11 picks on the secondary. Thompson and Hill were both in the middle rounds drafted to, ideally, replace Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas when their times in Seattle were finished, but neither made much of an impact. Thompson was released this offseason and Hill will be fighting to make the roster as a backup. Salk has said that draft class has had a huge impact on Seattle’s defensive struggles of late.
Blair, meanwhile, was Seattle’s highest-drafted member of the secondary since Thomas was taken in the first round in 2010. He started three games for the Seahawks at safety as a rookie and Salk came away impressed.
“When he got on the field midway through the year, I thought at times he looked like the best defensive player they had in their secondary,” he said. “So why are we talking about him maybe getting on the field for some specific sub packages when he can be on the field all the time as your starting safety? And that’s my expectation for a guy who was picked as he was. Remember, they picked him before (2019 breakout rookie receiver) DK Metcalf.”
When the Seahawks’ defense is at its best, the safeties are flying around and making plays and delivering big hits. Salk says that’s what Blair provides at safety, and using him at nickel is not putting him or the defense in the best situation to be successful.
“He is a hitter, he’s a guy that you’re counting on to come up and pop people and make a difference physically on the back end of your defense, something they’ve been missing since Kam Chancellor retired,” he said. “And I’m bummed out to hear that they’re looking at him maybe filling in to do some nickel or big nickel or whatever it is you want to call it because I’d really like to see him take over that (starting) spot from Bradley McDougald. And no shot at McDougald, but I’d love to see them re-work a deal with him or move on, save the $4 million and use that to improve your pass rush.
“I’d really like to assume that he’s in the mix for starting safety, not some nickel job.”
You can listen to the full first hour of Friday’s Tom, Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.