Heaps: Why talk of Blair in nickel packages for Seahawks is exciting

Jun 18, 2020, 9:52 AM | Updated: 9:52 am
Seaahwks S Marquise Blair...
Jake Heaps says the Seahawks looking at Marquise Blair at nickel is a good thing. (Getty)

During Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s video press conference last week, one of the biggest takeaways was that he and the team were looking to get 2019 rookie safety Marquise Blair more involved on defense in 2020.

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One of his suggestions was that Blair, a second-round pick, could see playing time at nickel corner.

“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 with players such as fellow 2019 draft pick Ugo Amadi, the presumed starter at that spot. “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.”

Some, like 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk, are not thrilled by that news as they would rather see Blair focus on playing safety and potentially surpassing two-year Seattle starter Bradley McDougald. Others, like former Seahawks quarterback Jake Heaps of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Tom, Jake and Stacy say that while you’d rather see Blair at safety, there’s reason to be excited about Carroll’s comments.

“When you hear that cut from Pete Carroll on Marquise Blair and trying to find a role for him and playing that nickel corner position, it’s hard to swallow that your high second-round pick might not be a starter for you until year three of his career,” he said. “He’s in year two now and (the Seahawks are) trying to find a unique role to get him on the field. But the potential benefit of it is you get Marquise Blair on the field, who’s a big-time playmaker, and it makes me feel like the Seahawks are looking at being more matchup-based rather than just being staunchly firm on one thing. Whether that’s base defense, nickel defense, and who exactly plays the nickel defense, right? Who plays the nickel position?”

In 2019, the Seahawks fielded their worst defense in a long time, and it was far and away the worst the unit has performed since Carroll took over as head coach in 2010. Last year, the Seahawks used nickel defense, which has five defensive packs and two linebackers, less than any other team in football, opting for a three-linebacker set that Carroll has said was more successful than when they rolled out an extra defensive back.

One likely reason that Seattle didn’t use nickel more was that there wasn’t a reliable player at that position in the coaching staff’s eyes. Amadi saw time there early, then played strictly special teams until late in the year. Veteran Jamar Taylor was the go-to guy there for a while, but he was released late in the season. Akeem King also saw some time there, but not much.

Now, it looks like Amadi and Blair could see more playing time for 2020 due in part to a potential shift away from base defense in favor of more nickel packages, which is more common as teams are utilizing more three- and four-receiver sets.

“Marquise Blair, to me, (can be used) in more situations when you talk about the San Francisco 49ers,” Heaps said. “They play a lot of 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end), they play a lot of 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) …. Now you can use Marquise Blair in those situations and matchup on some of those bigger-bodied guys in a lot of those situations.”

Heaps said if that’s the case, there’s still a role for Amadi, too.

“If a team is going out into four-wide receiver sets or empty (five-receiver) sets, now I’m bringing Ugo Amadi on the field to matchup on a slot receiver,” he said.

And whether or not Blair does play more nickel corner over safety, Heaps said Carroll’s comments show the Seahawks are looking to be more creative defensively, which is a good thing.

“I think the Seahawks are heading more in that direction and that gets me excited because that can bring some versatility to your defense,” he said.

You can listen to the second hour of Wednesday’s edition of Tom, Jake and Stacy at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake Heaps on Twitter.

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