The Seahawks went into the 2020 season very excited about what they were seeing out of Marquise Blair, who had taken over the nickel corner spot after playing safety in college and during his rookie season in Seattle.
Blair's rookie season unfortunately was cut short by a torn ACL in Week 2, but he's back now and again making plays in Seattle's secondary.
Blair being back and looking a lot like the player he was in 2020 does not, however, guarantee he opens the season as Seattle's top nickel back, not because of anything he's doing wrong, but because of how well Ugo Amadi played after taking over for Blair last season, and because of the way he's playing in training camp this summer.
"Ugo is really on his game," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "As a matter of fact, I talked to him about that today—about how much more he knows now, how much more aware he is. His ability to disguise and utilize the calls, he's just way ahead of where he's been, and he's looked really good. It's a real good battle between those two guys. Marquise we've always been excited about what he can do and how he can play, whether it's at safety or nickel. But Ugo isn't just giving it up, he's competing like crazy, it makes it a really good spot for us."
Asked what changes helped him get to the level Carroll described, Amadi pointed to the work he did in the offseason.
"I feel like I've been taking my offseason seriously," he said. "The offseason is really huge for any athlete, it's what you do in your spare time. If you practice a certain skillset, you will eventually master it. I feel like I made use of the offseason, not just physical abilities but mentally as well because the game is highly mental."
Amadi and Blair are competing for the same nickel spot, which in today's NFL is essentially a starting role, but as well as both have played over the past two years, it seems inevitable both will be factors on defense this season, particularly when you factor in that both also play safety and have worked there during camp.
As for the competition between the two 2019 draft picks, who somehow are the longest-tenured defensive backs on the roster after Tre Flowers, the two players are close and supportive of each other, but they also obviously want to win.
As Blair put it earlier in camp, "That's my brother. He's a great player, but we've both got families to feed."
Amadi said of the competition, "I feel good about it, it's a blessing to be out here. The most important thing is just getting better. Iron sharpens iron out here and I'm taking it all in, just being blessed overall."
Regardless of who wins the role, the expectations for the secondary and the defense will be high heading into 2021. The Seahawks were one of the worst defenses and pass defenses in the league, statistically speaking, in the first half of last season, turned things around drastically in the second half of the season.
The Seahawks lost a couple of key players in K.J. Wright and Jarran Reed, but with all of the players Seattle has returning on defense, plus those they've added this offseason, the expectation in the locker room is that the defense will look a lot more like it did late last season when it was one of the best units in the NFL, and not like the defense that struggled to stop teams early in the year.
"I feel like we are going to surprise a lot of people," Blair said. "We have a lot of good players on our defense. We will wait and see."
Photos from Seahawks Training Camp practice, held on Thursday, August 12 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Seahawks Training Camp is presented by Safeway.