Seahawks S Marquise Blair Impresses, Ready for Expanded Role
Without the services of starting strong safety Bradley McDougald and reserve Lano Hill, the Seahawks went into Sunday’s matchup against a talented Ravens offense undermanned in the secondary, creating an opportunity for Marquise Blair to finally play significant snaps on defense.
Blair, a second-round pick out of Utah, has struggled to find his way onto the field partially due to injuries as well as trust and readiness concerns expressed by coach Pete Carroll. During the first six weeks of the season, the rookie safety played just 12 defensive snaps and twice been deactivated as a healthy scratch.
Any time a player such as Blair makes his first start, nerves and emotions can have a negative impact on performance. But as observed by Bobby Wagner and other teammates, though the Seahawks faltered in a 30-16 loss, the soft-spoken, hard-hitting rookie was more than ready for his main audition on football’s biggest stage.
“He did a great job.” Wagner said following the game. “I felt like he came out ready to play, he had a really big third down stop on one play. I was happy with the way he came out and performed. With us, we just try to tell him that it’s just football. Once you get those games in, you don’t have to be a rookie anymore if you don’t want to be.”
Immediately after being introduced through the tunnel as a starter for the first time, a fired-up Blair flew down field on kickoff coverage team on the opening play of the game and brought down Justice Hill at the Ravens 16-yard line.
From that point on, Blair seemed to be around the football every single play, bringing much-needed energy to the Seahawks defense. He finished tied for second on the team with eight tackles and as Wagner noted, he made a critical third down pass deflection midway through the second quarter.
With the Ravens needing to convert a 3rd and 5 situation, quarterback Lamar Jackson dropped back to pass and looked to have tight end Mark Andrews open on a six-yard out route. But Blair made an impressive recovery in coverage, using his speed to undercut the route without making contact on the receiver and knocking the pass away with his left hand to force a Baltimore punt.
Executing the role of veteran leader as expected, K.J. Wright consistently communicated with Blair on the field to ensure he was properly positioned from snap to snap. Following a productive debut, he felt the rookie defender aced his first significant NFL test filling in for McDougald.
“I’m proud of him, really proud of him.” Wright remarked. “He had a good time, he had fun. He ran and hit like we knew he could.”
Time and time again during the first few months of the season, Carroll has offered similar responses when asked about Blair earning a shot to prove himself. He was playing catchup due to missed time from injuries, or he didn’t have the necessary command of Seattle’s defensive scheme yet, or other safeties were simply more trustworthy.
But re-stating the obvious, Blair has far more talent than most of the other safeties on the roster. Otherwise, why take him in the second round? He’s faster than Tedric Thompson or Hill, he’s a hard hitter who loves to talk with his pads, and he’s capable of playing either safety spot in a pinch.
Being a rookie, Blair will inevitably make mistakes, but he’s not going to develop or learn standing on the sideline. Once McDougald returns, he belongs in the starting lineup alongside him from here on out, giving Seattle excellent flexibility and a physical presence in the secondary it desperately needs.