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Marquise Blair is the big-hitting nickel the Seahawks need

Baltimore Ravens v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

You’ve probably seen it.

Well, maybe not, since reporters are allowed to share next to nothing this summer in the name of gamesmanship. But perhaps you’ve heard about it. Or felt the hype growing.

Marquise Blair is making waves this summer, but what does that actually mean for his chances and potential this year?

Here’s the problem: we heard and saw similar things last year. Maybe not at this level, but there were plenty of times when Blair truly flashed his playmaking potential. Watch Alistair Corp’s montage for a quick-hitter.

But then we were forced to endure this type of coachspeak:

I, for one, have extraordinarily little confidence that Pete Carroll will do anything he says on defense, unless he says they’re going to play Bobby Wagner.

So where does it actually leave Marquise Blair in 2020?

Now that Jamal Adams is here, Blair will not play safety unless Adams or Quandre Diggs are injured.

Thus came all this talk about nickel.

If nickel sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s because the Seattle Seahawks basically don’t play it. Or didn’t last year. Here’s our favorite chart, demonstrating how things went down last year.

Base defense means three linebackers, means no fifth (nickel) defensive back, means who cares about this conversation, right? The Seahawks doubled every team in the league except four in frequency of base defense.

There’s a couple tired options for why this was the case. Carroll frequently espoused it was because the unique trio of Wagner, Mychal Kendricks and K.J. Wright, was too special to pass up. On the other hand, former wide receiver Michael Bumpus at least believes that Seattle didn’t play more nickel because they didn’t have the athletes for it. He’s not alone in that thought.

Here’s the 2019 snap count for the defense, and we’ll get to corners in a moment.

Marquise Blair played 230 snaps, behind 18 members of the Seahawks’ defense. Notably, he was ahead of only L.J. Collier, and some bench players. He received around half the playtime of Branden Jackson, Tedric Thompson, and Ezekiel Ansah.

Tre Flowers received the most snaps at cornerback, followed by Shaquill Griffin who missed two games last year. Then, we have to drop all the way through the entire defensive line rotation and a safety who was here for five games before we get to Akeem King, the man responsible for the lion’s share of nickel corner snaps last year.

I am simply not interested in a 30-snap increase for Blair this year. It has to be more. There were times when Blair was the best hitter on the field. Like, most of the times he was on the field. There were times when he was empirically the best defensive player on the team, albeit for the minute and a half until Carroll realized he was on the field and yanked him back.

Blair or Flowers?

This could still turn into another really awkward year-long conversation. Tre Flowers now has far more experience than Blair, which is apparently something Carroll values behind the scenes more than his “always compete” motto that we get on camera.

The problems for Blair are simple:

  • It’s a new position.
  • Flowers has more experience on this team, at corner, and even at nickel.
  • It’s the Seahawks.
  • The above point is to say they could still do something crazy like play three linebackers again all year.
  • It’s also the Seahawks.
  • This time, the above point is to say that preseason hype has tended to result in no regular season rewards, on occasion. (Think John Ursua, Kasen Williams, and Cody Barton to an extent.)

The points in favor of Blair are as follows:

  • Tre Flowers seems to have a use as the third outside corner, as there are enough concerns around Quinton Dunbar to necessitate his availability in last year’s role.
  • There’s not been a question this preseason about his ability to play the position, merely our speculation as to whether they will utilize the position.
  • Carroll loves turnovers, something at which Seattle struggled mightily over the first half of 2019. Blair forced two fumbles last year, tied for third on the team, and this as the 19th most-used player on defense. The dude makes plays.
  • Wagner, the 2020 version of K.J. Wright, and Cody Barton or Jordyn Brooks is not as good as the linebacker trio of 2019.

This will be the move that determines Pete Carroll’s sanity this year in my opinion, at least on defense. If the stubborn abstinence from Blair continues this year, it will continue to prove that there is some other defensive philosophy that takes major precedence over what we’re told when the cameras are rolling. If they specifically scheme Cody Barton or a rookie onto the field as a third linebacker - a defense that is already extremely questionable against the NFC West rivals - over Blair’s big hitting, I am fully out on whatever strategy they try to sell us this year.

We need Blair to join the crew of Diggs, Adams, and Dunbar as what looks to be a monstrously improved secondary over Week 1 last year. That way we can feel a little better about the 7.9 second average that opposing quarterbacks are going to have to throw the ball this year.

Take your sweet time, Jared Goff. Those guys will knock the ball out eventually.