Seattle Seahawks

’Silent assassin’ rookie draft pick Marquise Blair will get shot to break into Seahawks defense

If it’s in the defensive secondary, the Seahawks think Marquise Blair can do it.

Free safety? Yes, he played that at the University of Utah.

Strong safety? Did that, too. In a thudding way.

In fact, Blair said the time spent playing free and strong safety in college was “50-50,” though when asked which part of his game he takes most pride in Blair said last weekend “definitely my physicality.”

Seattle general manger John Schneider said of Blair: “We worked him out at the combine and we thought this guy could play corner, he’s just that kind of athlete.”

Yet there is a primary, very noticeable reason Blair became the Seahawks’ second-round choice last weekend in the NFL draft. It’s the one reason, above the versatility, that Blair will be on its lakeside field Friday when Seattle begins a rookie minicamp that runs through Sunday.

“Really intense tempo setter. Tough, tough dude,” Schneider said. “He’s really quick. Like a silent assassin.

“This guy’s, like, scary tough.

“He’s really violent, really aggressive. We’re cool with it.”

Cool, too, with the fact Blair was ejected for three games in 24 games Utah, for hits college game officials deemed too dangerous. Two were last season, early endings against Washington and UCLA.

“He’s just hitting people,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in a verbal shrug.

Seattle’s last strong safety known for just hitting people was Kam Chancellor. “The Enforcer” had to retire after a neck injury he got in a game at Arizona in November 2017.

Chancellor’s replacement last season was a different kind of brilliant for the Seahawks’ defense. Bradley McDougald excels at sure tackles in the open field on receivers short of the line to gain—if not the mammoth, highlight hits that made Chancellor a Seattle legend. McDougald is also one of the Seahawks’ best cover men. McDougald was responsible for three of the first turnovers Seattle’s more opportunistic defense created in the first month of last season.

That combination and interchangeability is why the team gave him a three-year contract worth $13.5 million before the 2018 season.

McDougald played free and strong safety in his first Seahawks season, 2017, filling in some for injured Earl Thomas. McDougald has said strong safety is his favorite position, the one in which he was one of the best players on a playoff team last season.

So where is McDougald going to play in 2019, after the Seahawks spent a second-round pick on the hard-hitting Blair?

A little bit of everywhere.

“Using his versatility to do everything with him,” Carroll said of McDougald. “He can play close to the line of scrimmage; he’s very efficient run player. He’s our best all-around coverage guy, matching people up. Remember how we watched him in the ‘dime’ (six defensive backs) situation when we put him on a wide receiver or tight end, as well as the backs and all of those special things (in 2018).

“Through his experience he’s really good at all that stuff.”

The selection of Blair in round two—before the far more heralded D.K. Metcalf, the hulking wide receiver Seattle traded up to draft at the end of the second round—says less about McDougald and more about Tedric Thompson.

It appears the Seahawks are not convinced Thompson, their fourth-round pick from 2017, is their long-term answer at free safety now that Thomas is gone in free agent to Baltimore. Thompson has yet to play a full season there for Seattle; he filled in at free safety the final three months of 2018, after Thomas broke his leg.

If Blair continues to show the aggressive, thudding hitting in four preseason games this summer that he showed at Utah to catch the Seahawks’ eyes, it’s conceivable Seattle employs him as the run-stopping safety nearer the line and cover man McDougald as the center-fielder free safety in the back of the defense in 2019.

That remains to be seen. The initial, first-person looks of Blair, albeit in helmets and shorts, come this weekend at the rookie minicamp.

“We’d like to start him at safety on the inside knowing that there’s other things that he may be able to do, but we’re going to zero him in,” Carroll said. “We really like him attacking the line of scrimmage. He blitzes well. He tackles well. Hits well. Great feel. It’s his toughness that we’re really excited about. He happens to be a really great athlete as well.

“But we’re going to zero him in and focus him in at strong safety.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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