The Seahawks have a safety problem.
The team lists starting strong safety Bradley McDougald as questionable to play Sunday’s home game against the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL’s top-ranked offense.
McDougald has not practiced this week. Coach Pete Carroll said following Friday’s light practice that McDougald missed that the veteran woke up Tuesday with back spasms after after he played all 68 snaps in last weekend’s win at Cleveland.
Carroll spent about 5 minutes at the start of practice open to the media talking to McDougald. The coach said the spasms are something McDougald “could pop out of” in time to play against the Ravens.
“He’s not right today. He couldn’t go today yet,” Carroll said. “But, this is the kind of thing, it’s not an injury. It’s move of a condition-type thing.
“He might be able to pop out of this. We’ll see.”
The 28-year-old sure tackler and play-maker on the ball has played in all 38 regular-season games since Seattle signed him from Tampa Bay before the 2017 season, though he played through a knee injury last season then had surgery on it this past offseason.
He’s made 31 consecutive starts for the Seahawks since Nov. 5, 2017, interchanging effectively between strong and free safety to become one of the defense’s more dependable and indispensable starters.
“I think it was a major accomplishment to come back from his knee and to recover and he did that in beautiful fashion and has been able to just stay really steady,” Carroll said last week. “We’ve managed him through it. He did an incredibly good job there. He’s playing good ball. He’s the leader back there calling the calls. He continues to show us a lot of flexibility in all the things that he can do.”
Lano Hill is the primary backup at strong safety. He’s hurting, too, and Carroll said Hill won’t play. The Seahawks list him as doubtful with an elbow injury. That is also new since Hill played one series last weekend against the Browns.
“He will not make it,” Carroll said. “He’s got a thing on his elbow that it’s going to take a couple weeks here before we know what we can do with it.”
Sunday is shaping up to possibly be the first NFL start for rookie second-round draft choice Marquise Blair at strong safety, with Tedric Thompson at free safety, as usual.
Last week Carroll said Blair, called a “silent assassin” by Seattle general manager John Schneider for his hard hitting at strong safety at the University of Utah, was focusing on playing exclusively as a free safety.
But that was before McDougald’s and Hill’s injuries at strong safety. Carroll said Blair is ready to switch back to strong for Sunday. In fact, the coach said Blair couldn’t be more ready than he is after getting all the work at strong safety in practices this week.
“All the guys have to play both sides, you know,” Carroll said. “We feature a guy at one spot or the other. But if he has his chance to play and he plays at strong safety, he will be ready to go.”
Asked what he wants to see from Blair Sunday, Carroll said: “Shoot, I want to see him kick butt, man. I’m counting on him playing really good. He’s a runner and a hitter. He’s shown that. We don’t have any question on that.
“It’s just, can he settle in and get comfortable with the calls and the adjustments and all of that stuff, and just play good ball? There is no question about his ability level. It’s just getting acclimated. He’s had a really good week of practice. He’s gotten a ton of work, because of the situation with the safeties.
“This is as ready as he could possibly be at this point right now. So we are looking forward to him playing, if that’s the call.”
Duane Brown also missed Friday’s walkthrough practice. The team officially has its Pro Bowl left tackle as questionable with the biceps injury he’s had for a month. The 34-year-old Brown missed his first game of the season last weekend.
Carroll made it sound more likely that starting right guard D.J. Fluker will play Sunday. He called that a game-time decision. Fluker, also officially questionable, has a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two games.
If he can’t play Sunday usual backup tackle Jamarco Jones is ready to make his second NFL start, and second in two weekends, at guard for him.
“Fluke’s looking pretty good,” Carroll said. “And we’ll see; we are going to wait all the way up to game time with Duane.”
Pass rusher Ziggy Ansah is questionable to play with a new ankle injury he got while forcing a fumble at Cleveland last weekend. Ansah played only 27 of the 68 snaps against the Browns because of the injury.
“He was going to try to get out today, couldn’t quite get out there today but did some stuff,” Carroll said of his defensive end. “We are going to take him right up to game time.”
Blair also played one series at safety last weekend in Cleveland, part of Thompson’s two series on the sidelines while McDougald stayed in. The Browns game was Blair’s second NFL game on defense; he’s played two others on special teams.
“It was fine. It was cool. It wasn’t too big for me,” Blair said.
Blair had an impressive first preseason game in early August. Seahawks coaches liked his aggressiveness on the ball and on ball carriers and his tackling. Then he hurt his back and had a hip pointer. That kept him out for most of the rest of August and set him farther behind Hill as a candidate to play strong safety.
“Marquise showed so well in preseason. Again, he just missed so much and he’s behind guys that have all played here and given us a lot of confidence in their background,” Carroll said last week. “It’s hard to get him in there. When do you work him in these games? There’s not much time to do that.
“He has shown the brightest spots of any of the players in the hits that he’s made, the plays that he’s made on special teams running and hitting, to give us really high hopes that he’s going to be a really big factor. He’s got a knack for hitting football and being around the ball.
“We think he’s going to be good.”
I asked Blair this week if he noticed the intensity and speed of the game in Cleveland last weekend to be so much different than his preseason debut against Denver’s reserves.
“Not really,” he said. “Not the way we play.”
Blair said he hasn’t had to resist the urge to try to do too much in his return from his lost time and the development phase of the preseason.
“No,” he said. “It happened.
“You take one day at a time. There’s nothing you can (do about it). I mean, you miss the time.”
“Just the scheme, how you’ve got to be in the right place, the right gaps. You’ve got to be on it. You’ve got to be where you are supposed to be at.”
That will be of utmost importance Sunday.
The Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked offense (450.7 yards per game) and number-one rushing offense (205 yards per week). Quarterback Lamar Jackson leads Baltimore with 460 yards rushing. The second-year veteran with 4.3-second speed in the 40-yard dash romped over Cincinnati last weekend for a career-high 152 yards in a 26-23 victory.
Jackson is on pace to break Michael Vick’s NFL record for yards rushing by a quarterback in a season. The Ravens are on early pace to break New England’s 40-year-old record for yards rushing by a team in a season.
Being the right gaps will be job one for the Seahawks on Sunday. It appears rookie Blair will be in the middle of that work.