SEATTLE, WA - Late last month, only a few days before the expected start of training camp, the Seahawks rolled the dice by shipping two first-round picks as part of an expensive trade package to acquire safety Jamal Adams from the Jets.
The move sent shock waves throughout the NFL, as Seattle landed one of the premier young defenders in the game to bolster a defensive unit that struggled for most of the 2019 season. Given his rare blitzing ability, tackling prowess near the line of scrimmage and in space, and underrated coverage skills, he's shown throughout this month he will make an immediate impact at all three levels for coach Pete Carroll's defense.
But with Adams in the fold and Quandre Diggs returning for his first full season as the presumed starter at free safety, questions persisted about what his arrival would mean for Marquise Blair and his future in Seattle.
Three weeks into camp, however, the Seahawks look to have found something with Blair forced to transition to the nickel cornerback role. The former Utah standout has been dominant on the practice field as of late and this success translated to Wednesday's mock game, as he picked off rookie quarterback Anthony Gordon twice and registered a tackle for loss eight yards in the backfield.
“Marquise Blair had a big day,” Carroll remarked after the scrimmage. “He did a nice job with two huge plays turning the ball over.”
Having a front row seat for both of Blair's interceptions - including deflecting a pass from Gordon into the air to create the turnover opportunity on one of them - veteran cornerback Shaquill Griffin heaped praise on the second-year defender, calling him the "front-runner" of Seattle's new-look secondary.
“He’s comfortable,” Griffin said when I asked him about Blair's recent success. “Last year, he was kind of going with the flow. He was a rookie. He was learning. Now he’s playing more like a vet. You can feel it when he’s out there with us... He’s showing up and he’s making the plays that we’re expecting him to make."
In part due to injuries during the offseason and training camp, Blair struggled to learn the playbook and master his assignments as a rookie. On multiple occasions, Carroll indicated the young safety needed to earn his trust playing a pivotal position in Seattle's defense.
As a result, though Blair flashed at times in three starts replacing Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald, he reverted back to the sideline when the Seahawks acquired Diggs from the Lions in October. For most of the second half of the season, he was relegated to special teams duty and even when Diggs went down with an ankle injury, Carroll chose to go with Lano Hill as his replacement down the stretch.
While he appeared in 14 games and finished with 32 tackles and a forced fumble, Blair only logged 230 defensive snaps on the season.
Thriving in his second training camp, the light switch has been turned on with Blair's play making skills featured well at the nickel position. Playing faster, he's been a problem for Seattle's offense when blitzing, has frequently wrecked runs in the backfield, and has steadily improved in coverage as camp has progressed, turning up the heat on Ugo Amadi in the competition for snaps.
“I feel like they’ve got everybody in the right places now, especially when it comes to Marquise Blair,” Griffin said. “I feel like he’s been shining so far in this camp, doing an amazing job.”
With the acquisitions of Adams and Quinton Dunbar, who reported to camp late after having armed robbery charges against him dropped, along with the return of Griffin and Diggs, the Seahawks expect their re-tooled secondary to be among the NFL's elite. If Blair suddenly becomes a major factor as a nickel defender, there may not be a ceiling for how good this group can be.
Though questions linger about their defensive line and pass rush - especially with Jadeveon Clowney unsigned and rookie Darrell Taylor yet to practice - the talent and depth stockpiled in the secondary should make all the difference for Seattle in 2020. Assuming he continues trending upward and progressing at his new position, Blair will be a significant contributor for the group moving forward.