Marquise Blair embraces position switch in Seahawks defense

RENTON, Wash. (AP) — When the Seattle Seahawks spent a second-round pick in 2019 on Marquise Blair, their belief was that they had landed another hard-hitting safety in the mold of Kam Chancellor.

Not the same build or same player as Chancellor, but definitely a similar aggressive style of play.

So it came as a surprise in June when coach Pete Carroll said the team was looking at Blair as potentially its nickel cornerback if he couldn’t win a job as the starting safety. When Seattle traded for All-Pro Jamal Adams, the best way for Blair to work his way onto the field regularly was to commit to the position change.

Whether Blair can be successful won’t be known until the season opener against Atlanta. But the Seahawks are thrilled with what they have seen during training camp.

“Now that he’s been able to understand his role, put him in a position to really master what that position, nickel, takes as far as technique, and the ability to rush, the ability to cover in man coverage, he makes us a really good man coverage team,” defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “He’s able with his length and his strength to really cover really tight and sticky.”

Blair appeared in 14 games with three starts as a rookie. At times, his aggressive style paid dividends. At others, he looked the part of an overly aggressive rookie still learning the rules for playing strong safety in the NFL and in Seattle.

Playing nickel cornerback never seemed in the cards for Blair, but it may be the best opportunity to highlight all his skills.

“I feel like I can cover. I feel like I can blitz. I feel like I can fit in the run gaps, everything the nickel does,” Blair said.

One player who understands what Blair is going through is fellow Seattle defensive back Tre Flowers. Flowers was primarily a safety in college at Oklahoma State but he fit the profile of what Seattle wants in its cornerbacks and was moved to the position immediately. He has started 30 of 32 games over his first two seasons in the league, although he’s likely to move into a reserve role after Seattle traded for Quinton Dunbar in the offseason.

Flowers said the biggest challenge for Blair will be learning to cover receivers in space.

“When you play safety you get to use both of your eyes a lot. You get to dissect stuff, you get to feel stuff coming at you. You get to see the whole play,” Flowers said. “When you’re a little closer to somebody you’re focused on him and then the ball is coming at a little different angle.”

Seattle does have options if Blair struggles. Ugo Amadi played some nickel cornerback last year and Flowers and Neiko Thorpe could slide into the position. The Seahawks overwhelmingly played base defense with three linebackers last year, so the importance of the nickel position was minimized. But if Blair can be successful making the shift, it’s another piece added to Seattle’s already standout secondary.

“He’s really probably been the brightest surprise of camp,” Carroll said. “And what it is, is we didn’t know how he would cover being that he has been more of a safety. But he’s got great quick feet, and great feel for routes and he covers people as tight as anybody we have on our team.”

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