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Seahawks DE L.J. Collier
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Huard: 3 Seahawks on defense to keep an eye on when practices start

Brock Huard will be keeping a close eye on Seahawks DE L.J. Collier. (Getty)

We’re roughly a month away (hopefully) from the Seahawks taking part in training camp ahead of the 2020 season and after making it to the divisional round of the playoffs, it remains to be seen if Seattle can take another step forward and make the NFC Championship and perhaps the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl.

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While the Seahawks fielded a top 10 offense in 2019, the defense was the worst that head coach Pete Carroll has had since he took over in 2010. If not for recording 32 turnovers – third most in the NFL – it’s possible that Seattle misses the playoffs as they struggled mightily against both the run and pass and had one of the league’s worst pass rush units.

Training camp isn’t starting tomorrow, so we won’t be able to get a look at the defense for some time. But if it were to start tomorrow, which players would former NFL quarterback Brock Huard be keeping a close eye on? He told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant that there are three defensive players he’s interested in seeing.

Safety Marquise Blair

“It starts No. 1 with Marquise Blair,” Huard said.

Blair, a second-round pick in 2019 who was Seattle’s highest-drafted defensive back since Earl Thomas went in the first round in 2010, had an interesting rookie campaign as he was initially a special teams player before starting three games at safety midway through the season. His best game came against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8 when he had 11 tackles and forced a fumble in the redzone. But once trade acquisition Quandre Diggs was healthy, Blair was relegated to second string and continued to see nearly all his snaps come on special teams.

He has been a hot topic of discussion recently after Carroll told reporters that he could compete for playing time at nickel corner. While that could add a wrinkle to the Seahawks’ defense, there is always a chance that Blair shines and beats out incumbent strong safety Bradley McDougald for the starting job. If not, Huard is interested in what Blair could add in nickel packages.

“We’ve talked about him the last couple weeks and exactly where he’s going to fit in this defense and (we may be) watching him do something that I haven’t seen him do much of and throughout college he was a safety, but he did play around the line of scrimmage and in the box at Utah and was very physical,” he said. “But to play nickel at this level you have to have superior instincts, you’ve got to have excellent change of direction and quickness and I’d just be curious to see him if they’re going to indeed give him that shot just how natural he looks in that position. That’s not an easy coverage job (because) you’ve got no help with the (sideline) and you really do have to have tremendous change in direction.”

Defensive end L.J. Collier

The only player drafted higher by the Seahawks in 2019 was defensive end L.J. Collier, who was the 29th overall selection.

Collier was disappointing as a rookie, recording just three total tackles with no sacks. He injured his ankle in training camp and missed the rest of practices, all four preseason games and the Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. When he returned, he was a step behind and it showed. He ultimately was a healthy scratch for many of Seattle’s games.

“I think L.J. Collier would be way up that list,” Huard said. “You make your biggest jump – college coaches always tell you this – you make your biggest jump from your freshman year to your sophomore year both in your strength numbers and your comfort level. We have seen that here in Seattle. We saw (running back) Chris Carson year 1 to year 2 transform himself. We watched (defensive end) Frank Clark show some spurts as a rookie but really become a different guy in year 2, and the  list goes on and on. And L.J. Collier has got to take a significant step.”

Part of the reason Collier’s rookie season had some declaring him a bust already was due to the Seahawks’ lack of a pass rush.

Edge rusher was an area of concern before Collier was even drafted as Seattle traded Clark to the Chiefs and ultimately used one of the picks they acquired on Collier. Then, once we got to the season, Seattle had just 28 sacks, which was tied for the second least in the NFL. The unit was poor, but Collier couldn’t even get on the field. That was concerning to many fans and analysts. Huard says that it should be clear if he’s ready to take that next step going into 2020.

“So (I’d look for) just the way he would carry himself, his comfort level on the field, his explosiveness,” he said. “What does he look like? Does it jump out … Just ‘wow, this is a different guy than the one we saw the season before’? Because as a first-round pick with a team that desperately needs more twitch and pass rush up front, my eyes would be there.”

Cornerback Quinton Dunbar

While Huard’s previous two picks were both 2019 rookies who could play much bigger roles in 2020, his third choice was one of Seattle’s newest players in cornerback Quinton Dunbar.

Earlier this offseason, the Seahawks traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Washington Redskins for Dunbar, who was Pro Football Focus’ second-rated cornerback in the entire NFL in 2019, and the thought was he would challenge and likely beat out Tre Flowers for the starting outside cornerback job opposite Pro Bowler Shaquill Griffin. But now it’s unclear what his availability would be.

Dunbar has been accused of armed robbery in Florida along with New York Giants cornerback Deandre Baker. He had a warrant for his arrest and ultimately turned himself in and was released on bond, but his lawyer has maintained his innocence, largely because he says that he has written statements from witnesses saying Dunbar wasn’t involved in any alleged robbery.

That all has led to speculation over whether or not he’ll be on the team or if he’ll be suspended. He’s reportedly been taking part in online team meetings while the legal process plays out.

“Whether or not he’s here A, as a Seahawk and B, what he looks like (are what I’m looking for),” Huard said. “Just how fast he is for the size and the length and the stuff that pops on film. I’d be curious to see what that looks like on the practice field.”

Listen to Huard’s conversation with Danny and Gallant at this link or in the player below.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard on Twitter.

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