As a rookie, 2019 fourth-round pick Ugo Amadi was a constant topic of conversation as the Seahawks’ defense bucked convention playing more base defense than nickel, leaving the rookie on the sideline. Towards the end of the season, Amadi took over the nickelback position and ahead of the 2020 season Pete Carroll has suggested it is his job to lose.
I spoke with Ugo Amadi about his versatility as a defensive back, the veteran leadership in the secondary, the impact of the virtual offseason, and more.
Let’s start by looking backward. What was the biggest adjustment for you, moving from college to the NFL?
The biggest adjustment for me was number one, the speed of the game. The speed of the game definitely picked up a lot more. The physicality, definitely, turned up a notch as well. Also, I would definitely say preparing for a game. There’s a lot to look out for. The little details, body language, film, down and distance, personnel, all that stuff. All the little stuff people don’t talk about, that stuff really matters.
You played all over the secondary at Oregon. After the draft, Pete Carroll called you a free safety, then in camp you split time between safety and nickel. Is there a spot in the secondary you feel most comfortable at?
No, there’s no particular position. I adapt to the position they put me in, that’s why I like to know what everybody’s doing. I have the ability to play multiple positions in the backend so that gives me an upper-hand, especially when I was coming out.
How did someone like Bradley McDougald, who is similarly versatile having played the slot and both safety spots in his career, have an impact on you arriving in the NFL as a versatile defensive back?
He helped me out a lot. I used to always watch film with him and he was the one that really taught me the little details and how crucial gap fitting is, and taking notes so you can retain the information. His style of play is something that influenced me, being physical at all times because the opponent will bring it to you every snap, so you have to prepare for that mentally and physically.
As the Seahawks have transitioned from the Legion of Boom to this new wave of defensive backs, who has been taking on the leadership role in that room?
I would say BMac [McDougald], Shaq [Griffin], and Quandre Diggs. Those guys have the experience and we look up to those guys. Those guys demand greatness every day, whether it’s in practice or walk-throughs. They know when it’s time to lock-in. I feel like those guys definitely have shown us how to walk the walk.
How was Quandre Diggs’ presence felt on the field after he arrived midseason?
He’s our cleanup guy. He makes sure everything’s in order. If the play gets out of whack, he’s, like I said, the cleanup guy. Whenever stuff breaks down he’s there, and he is every time 100 percent.
Tedric Thompson’s communication on the backend was something he was often praised for. What impact did he have on you, and what was the biggest thing of his missed after he went down injured?
Tedric, he was one of those guys I loved because he didn’t talk much, but when he spoke you definitely listened because it was something he was going to enlighten you on. He practiced hard, I really got myself to watch a lot of film through him because you gotta always keep your mind going, be ready for whatever could happen. It doesn’t even need to be on the opponent, it can be from practice, and he got me watching a lot of film.
When he went down, we had to have the next man up and it was unfortunate because he could hit, he could cover, he could do all that. It was really unfortunate when he went down.
Have the coaches had any discussion with you as far as settling you into one position, be it nickel or safety, or is it going to be a continuation of doing multiple things?
Right now, it’s going to be a bunch of things, but a lot of times it’ll be me being ready to play nickel. But I still have to know all the other positions, so I’m not really limited to one thing—especially mentally.
How did it affect you to play so sporadically? You started at nickel in Week 1, then out of the lineup, and then back in after Jamar Taylor’s release. Did that make it difficult to stay ready, or did you find it to be okay because there were veterans around to keep you mentally sharp?
I found it okay because I had guys—JT [Jamar Taylor] was my guy and is still my guy to this day. He used to always tell me, “just stay ready because you never know when your name’s going to be called.” I am a patient person, I feel like good things happen to people who are patient so I just made the most of those opportunities I did get on the field, which was on special teams, and when my name was called for nickel I was just going to be ready to go regardless of when it was going to happen. Whether it was going to be for one game, I was going to be ready.
How did Jamar Taylor help you adjust to playing nickel in the NFL?
He has a lot of experience, he is one of those guys too who watched a lot of film. He was just calling out certain things based off of body language and splits and stuff. He used to always just throw little gems at me about what a type of route’s called and how to play it, and certain receivers, you have to study them.
You have to know all these types of certain offensive coordinators’ names because whatever they do [schematically], they are going to bring it with them because that’s what’s going good for them. They’re going to bring it with them to go to that next team, so he got me to know all these coaches’ names and stuff like that.
You often hear about players transitioning from college to the pros who say they watched a lot of film, but didn’t know how to watch film. Is that something you learned from guys like McDougald and Taylor—how to watch film in a more efficient way?
Yeah definitely, especially when you get to the next level there’s a certain way you have to watch film. You think, as a person who’s not an athlete and they watch NFL games, you think there’s a lot of stuff a player has to know about the opponent. But when you really dissect it piece-by-piece, it’s not that much because everyone has tendencies, everybody goes back to what they like to do best, so it was big for me.
In the NFC West you have three offensive masterminds in Kliff Kingsbury, Sean McVay, and Kyle Shanahan who want to do different things to defenses. Kingsbury loves to throw the ball downfield, McVay and Shanahan want to stretch you horizontally. How difficult is it to adjust week-to-week, preparing for an Air Raid in Arizona, smash-mouth in San Francisco, then McVay where he’s going to have you running sideline-to-sideline?
It’s very tough, that’s a good question to ask. After that one Arizona week, you have to flush everything you learned for that week and then rip that page out of your book and get ready for the next opponent. You’re right about both teams. The 9ers, they love to do motion every snap, they motion just to see... it could be just to change your gap fit, or a man/zone indicator too. Those two guys have very high offensive playcalling IQs. When it comes to these types of teams, you have to have short-term memory.
You’ve mentioned the importance of gap fits. Your ability as a tackler was well thought of coming out of Oregon, and Shaquill Griffin’s run defense was great in 2019. The 49ers are going to run the ball right at you and have guys like Deebo Samuel who’s like another running back at times. As a secondary, was there an added level of importance you put on being sound tacklers?
Definitely, especially in the open field and getting off blocks, that’s another huge key to for us. The good players you mentioned, those are the type of guys you have to get down, you have to hit them first before they get going. Once they get going that’s what nobody wants to see. Get guys down, get guys stopped before they get out in the open field and can use the abilities they have.
Going back to your role in 2020: Since the season has ended, Pete has talked about wishing he got you on the field more and how nickel is your position to lose. How does that change your approach?
It doesn’t change my mentality at all, I’m still going to go in wanting to win my job every day. I feel like my job’s on the line every day. That’s how it was my rookie year, even on special teams. I’m not worried about competing with nobody else, it’s all about the man in the mirror to me. I want the best for myself, so I’m going to make sure I’m on my stuff at all times, make sure I’m mentally prepared, because if I only focus on other people I can’t get my own job done. That’s not just with ball that’s with anything in life.
I feel like, with those words being said by Pete, he knows and I know that will be something that makes me sharpen my iron and make me put in the extra work to know this or know that.
Your first big moment was a hit against the Vikings in preseason on special teams, then you went on to be a core special teamer all year. Another corner, Neiko Thorpe, has been one of the key special teamers for a few years now. How does he set the tone for that group, and how did he help your development as a special teamer?
I love Neiko, that’s my man, one of my favorite vets walking into the league. He definitely embodies that swagger that we needed, that confidence, because he’s been doing it for a long time and we want to shine just like how he shines. As a rookie, you want to go out there and prove yourself and show the big dogs you can play with the big dogs, and that’s kind of like the mentality he had every day.
Every day he was ready to go, the games he couldn’t play we were playing for him because we know he would love to be out there with us, making plays, getting to the ball, and all that stuff. He was huge in cultivating my mind to always be ready, you never know, be ready.
Did you play him at ping pong at all, and if so how did that go?
Maaaaaan I played him in ping pong, he beat me. He beat me too many times, it got to the point I tried to like, take his paddle out of his locker and use it against him.
At Oregon, you made a lot of plays blitzing, and blitzing from the slot can be a great way to get extra pressure. What do you think makes you successful as a blitzer at nickel?
Disguise is very key on the nickel coming. I will also say timing the nickel up, where there’s an indicator where the guard taps the center and he’s ready to snap or the quarterback rubs his hand on the towel and then he puts his hands up and is ready for the ball. It’s all about little keys, little details, to make a blitzer good.
Even when the nickel is getting picked up, is he going to strain still to get to the ball, is he going to dip underneath the tackle. Tackles hate blocking shifty little guys, they have to bend down and all that stuff. There’s a lot that goes into blitzing, but it happens fast. I said a lot, but it happens fast.
How has the virtual offseason been for you? Is it easier for you, in your second offseason?
Like you said, it’s not like I’m flying blind through it. It’s a good experience, you’re still able to get the work in, coaches ask you questions to make sure you’re focused and locked in, paying attention. But I feel bad for the rookies because defense has certain verbiage and that verbiage is different for every single team. So they don’t really know until you get that walk-through rep. I feel bad for them. For me, it’s all just memory so it’s another way of learning. It’s a different way of learning but you get something out of it every day—especially with our team.
You came into the league with another defensive back in Marquise Blair. How did you guys help each other as rookies?
We lean on one another for sure, we still do. We still compete, we just know we’ll be ready for anytime our name is called, and anytime we’re on the field together we’re making plays. That’s who we are, we feed off each other.
With the virtual offseason, have the defensive backs been doing film sessions independently? Who has been organizing them if so?
I take it up upon myself. I ask certain players and certain coaches questions about what I see, just to make sure. We’re seeing different types of offenses every week, so certain offenses have their go-to formations, so I reach out to people on certain things I want to know. And I want to make sure I ask because if I don’t ask and I mess up on the field, they’ll think “I thought you knew.” I don’t want those, “I thought you knew,” I want to be for sure and defined on what I know.
Is that something that came with time, or did you enter the NFL with a willingness and want to ask questions?
I knew that in college, that’s something I learned in college because it got more complex from high school. In high school, you probably ran cover-2, cover-3 and that’s it. You weren’t dealing with motions or anything like that. In college, I was definitely comfortable with asking questions, and in the league, I ask questions too. Sometimes too it’s “Dang, that was a really good question you asked there.” I always ask questions, because I want to always know why, what’s the reason, and why do I need to know that?
Who has been the standout guest for you as far as the Zoom meetings?
I was actually shocked Steve Kerr was on there because he didn’t even look the same, he had a beard all grown out. It felt like a good moment too because we had just got done watching The Last Dance’s last episode, so he was able to get on there and speak which was cool. I like to learn the history of guys who did it before, no matter the sport. I like to learn the history of those guys and their competitive edge, and what it took for them to get where they’re at today.
I want to end here, and please share as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. The protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing racial injustice in America is something teams in all sports are dealing with right now. Is it something you have gotten a chance to discuss as a team or a position group?
It’s a subject you have to talk about among your peers, regardless of your race. We talked about it as a team, it starts off with education, you have to educate yourself. History repeats itself—you have to educate yourself. First, you talk the education, then you talk the racism, then you talk about equality. It doesn’t matter what race you are, it doesn’t matter whether you’re lesbian, straight, bi, it doesn’t matter. It’s about treating people equally. That’s the biggest thing and that’s what we’re not getting right now. People are not seeing that. In this world, God brought people to this world that are good and evil. We’re dealing with good people and evil people. The evil people are overshadowing the good people.
It’s a bad thing we’re going through right now, because we got kids who are going to grow up and be right in the position we are. We need a leader to show the way of how the world is supposed to be, because nobody should be treated better than one another. As an African American, I understand people are looting and stuff like that, but at a certain point, people have to understand what it feels like to have a target on their back, each and every day, no matter the situation.