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Seahawks Cornerback Stack: Preseason slate complete

Back-of-the-roster decisions loom

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks
look at this guys, it’s the ball
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The only thing I feel sure of in the Seattle Seahawks defensive backfield, other than Contract Seekers Jamal Adams and Quandre Diggs as starting safeties, is that Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi look really good. They’ll split the snaps at nickel safety, I mean, free corner, I mean, roverback. Watching Blair and Amadi materialize all over the field in Week 3 was a real treat, knowing that Adams and Diggs are ready to do the same when it counts. Positional flexibility is sexy, especially when it’s a defensive genius like Pete Carroll moving the chess pieces all over the board.

(If Carroll could draft a player named Jack Ovaltrades Versatility, he would lobby to spend a fourth on him, only to have John Schneider tell him to wait until the sixth.)

Beyond those four playing a huge role in keeping everything in front of them, and terrorizing quarterbacks with malicious blitzes, it’s a giant guessing game when it comes to Seahawks defensive backs this preseason.

It’s impossible to tell for certain if Tre Flowers, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Brown or D.J. Reed will start at outside corner on September 12 in Indianapolis. But it’s also impossible to imagine (careful John! Is this your first season watching the Seahawks finalize a roster?) any of them being left off. Unless Brown starts on IR, as is the custom for a heavily hyped draft pick around here.

It’s implausible, with a hint of impossible, that the Seahawks will roll with just eight defensive backs. Nick Bellore’s positional flexibility, Deejay Dallas’ clear return skills, and the lack of a compelling candidate at WR6 is going to give Carroll the chance to run with at least nine DBs. I don’t think 10 is preposterous, nor is 11 totally out of the question. Depends on who they believe can be boxed up, bubble-wrapped and snuck into an Amazon Prime van with a shipping label that says “Practice Squad.”

So that’s where I’ll spend my speculation pennies later today. Which is not a Rashaad or Hart reference, unless you want it to be. (One Penny is making the team; the other is not.) But first, the business of pretending to be Pete:

Outside starters

D.J. Reed and Ahkello Witherspoon

Reed hasn’t been spotted on the field this month. He’s also the only returning outside corner and did nothing in the second half of 2020 to suggest he couldn’t handle the demands of the position. Then, none of his competitors did anything in the 2021 preseason to wrest the job away. If he’s not starting Week 1 because he’s less than 100 percent healthy, then he’s starting Week 2. Reed’s only a backup when you play semantics games. And he mostly plays football games.

Witherspoon logged very few snaps in preseason Weeks 2 and 3 combined — just 39, while the team spent much of their efforts evaluating the younger talent. He also performed exclusively on the left side of the defense. If Carroll were concerned about Witherspoon’s ability to fit in, he would’ve given the 49er import more playing time already. The early part of the season is Witherspoon’s to hold down, and the team depth chart agrees. Now, I think before Week 18 rolls around, he’ll have ceded starting duties to Brown, but don’t quote me on that, or even read the sentence at all.

To my eye, Witherspoon has played largely mistake-free defense. He got beat once deep on a pretty throw. Eh. Quarterbacks sometimes have touch. He didn’t commit penalties, he didn’t lose his man, he got some effective hand fighting in, and deflected a pass that still ended up complete. He was competent-to-good.

The playmakers on the Seattle defense aren’t at corner anyway. They’re roaming the field like Adams, running the show like Bobby “Bob” Wagner, becoming the next K.J. Wright like Jordyn Brooks, turning the corner like Carlos Dunlap, flashing up the middle like Poona Ford. All the Seahawks need to be a great defense is cornerbacks who don’t get lost out there. Witherspoon can do that.

Outside backups

Ah, the two enigmatic Tres. Flowers is a luxury backup, capable of filling in against the best (shutting DeAndre Hopkins down in 2020), but just as likely to be overmatched against the best (not shutting down Davante Adams in 2019). Bottom line? If Flowers has to start four games in the middle of the season, the Seahawks will be fine.

Brown is an unknown, with what appear to be good coverage skills on a small frame. He doesn’t have to play at all this year, but he will, once he adjusts to the speed of the game at this level.

So that’s eight DBs down, and one, or two, or more to go. Nobody knows what Carroll is thinking, so ranking them by practice squad likelihood is as good an exercise as any.

Practice Squad candidates

Damarious Randall — low. The vet has six years of experience, two pick-sixes in his past with the Green Bay Packers, and would immediately seek his fortunes elsewhere if the Seahawks keep him off the 53. If you’re looking for a reason Randall nabs one of the 53 glorious roster spots, voila.

John Reid — medium high. A week ago, Reid was available from the Houston Texans for the price of a conditional seventh. That’s the most anyone was willing to pay. Why should any other team want him on their final roster now, when they could’ve already had him for free?

Aashari Crosswell — high. Undrafted rookies have already had every team pass on them in the draft. No reason they’d poach him now after a relatively quiet preseason that confirmed all their priors. Crosswell has been seen at the Blair-Amadi nickel hybrid position, without drawing too much attention to himself, either positive or negative. He’s a better candidate for the final roster if Ryan Neal isn’t deemed ready to roll for Week 1, or Diggs’ statement somehow escalates into a holdout. Absent those factors, to the squad he should go.

Gavin Heslop — high. Small school keeps him relatively off the radar, although his sure tackling and physical presence won’t have escaped league scouts. Honestly, if the Seahawks don’t like him enough for the 53, I hope he does catch on somewhere, though preferably not a division rival.

Don’t get too cute, Pete. Put Heslop on the 53, Pete. You won’t regret it.

Will Sunderland — extremely high. I haven’t seen Sunderland do anything better than Reid or Heslop, or move with their fluidity, or attack the ball like them. He’s also about to turn 25 and has no regular season experience, so he’s behind the eight ball in his development schedule. That’s not the type of player another team typically spends a precious roster spot on, so he can drive the Prime van all the way back to Renton himself and learn the game this year to get ready for 2022.

Guessing what Seattle will do:

  • Randall and Heslop make the 53. Love me some underdogs.
  • Neal on the 53, but pay Crosswell handsomely on the PS for insurance
  • Sunderland to the ghost roster

But your guess is as good as mine, and often better.