Ugo Amadi has only been a member of the Seattle Seahawks for four months, but after just two preseason games and his first NFL training camp, he is already showing his new team what made him so successful and popular with his previous one.
"He's one of those kids who's very mature, takes pride in being very smart on the field, good classroom guy, tremendous leader," said John Neal, who was Oregon's defensive backs coach for Amadi's first two seasons with the Ducks. "Everyone's going to like the guy, everyone's going to like him as a player and as a person. Fans are going to love him, coaches are going to love him. Anybody who can do multiple things in the NFL, those guys are invaluable. He can return kicks and punts, he can cover kicks and punts. He can play cover corner, he can play safety.
"Ugo can blitz, he can cover, he can cover the inside slot, he can cover the outside receivers, he's competitive, he's ultra smart, and he's a fantastic teammate. Seattle got themselves the right kind of kid. Everyone wants that kind of guy."
That wide-ranging skillset Amadi's former position coach described has already started showing itself in Seattle's first two preseasons games, particularly on special teams where Amadi has looked dynamic as a punt returner, and even better covering kicks and punts. Most notably, the fourth-round pick made one of the plays of the preseason on Sunday while covering a Michael Dickson punt against the Vikings. Lined up as one of Seattle's two gunners, Amadi split a double team, sprinted down the field and not only timed the hit perfectly, arriving a split second after the ball, but also executed a perfect form tackle without using his helmet.
"It was a perfect play, it really was," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "The timing of it, the form tackle, the shoulder hit, a great Hawk Tackle. He showed thousands of kids what it looks like to tackle somebody in open field. He's just done something every time he's been out on the field so he's been a really exciting player for us and he knocked the ball out (in practice Wednesday), he got his first punch out today. There's been a lot of positive stuff."
Amadi used a standout career at Oregon to get noticed by NFL teams, including the Seahawks, a college career that included winning the Lombardi Award, which is given to the country's top college football player, regardless of position, based on performance as well as leadership, character and resiliency. But for Amadi to end up on the West Coast in the first place, it took a fortuitous case of mixed up contacts in a cell phone.
Amadi, who is from Nashville, initially committed to Ole Miss, then decommitted when he found out he wouldn't be able enroll early for spring football despite graduating from high school early. Next on his list was LSU, but a coaching change occurred just after he settled on the Tigers, leaving him still uncommitted well into his senior year. Amadi's personal trainer then asked if he should reach out to an assistant coach he knew on Jim Harbaugh's staff at Michigan, and Amadi said yes, so a text was sent.
"My trainer, he knew Jim Harbaugh's assistant, so he texted his assistant like, 'Hey, I've got this four star DB interested in your program, you willing to take a chance?'" Amadi said.
One problem with that plan. The text actually went to Neal at Oregon, who after watching tape of Amadi, was more than happy to take advantage of his good luck.
"The message went to Oregon and not to Michigan," Amadi said. "I sent them my transcript, and I signed, I didn't even take a visit, I just signed sight unseen."
Recalled Neal, "I put the film on—anybody who's committed to LSU is going to be a top-notch player—so I contacted him and felt it out… He was really a solid guy, really solid. I never met him; he signed with us, then I couldn't make contact with him (because of a recruiting dead period). I never met his parents, I never met the guy. You're taking a chance. He showed up early January. I was just praying like heck he wasn't 5-foot-5 or something and I totally screwed up on something. Then I met him and his parents, and his parents were just salt-of-the-earth human beings, the best people you can imagine. So I knew we were going to have a special personality and the right kind of player and right kind of person."
Amadi's personality makes him easy to like, but it's his play on the field that will ultimately win him a spot on Seattle's roster, and both his play on special teams and his versatility on defense strongly suggest he'll do just that. So far in camp and the preseason, Amadi has split time between free safety and the nickel corner spot, competing for the starting job with three other players at the latter position. So far he has gotten less work there than Akeem King, Kalan Reed and Jamar Taylor, but Carroll said they'll look more at Amadi there over the next two preseason games. But with plays on special teams like the one he made on Sunday, Amadi is showing he can be a valuable member of the team even if he isn't a starter on defense right away.
"He's competing for the nickel spot," Carroll said. "He's still competing for the nickel spot. So these two games will be enormous for him again to show how far along he's come. It's really about the details and the intricacies of playing the position. He's just got to catch up, he's really a bright kid too. There's no indication that he's not going to learn it but it's just kind of a race to the opener."
One player who knows a thing or two about using versatility and special teams play to make himself invaluable to a team is veteran defensive back DeShawn Shead, who began his career on the practice squad, but eventually became a regular contributor first on special teams, then as a Swiss Army knife of a defensive back who could play corner and both safety spots, and eventually as a starting corner. And as someone who has used his versatility to earn a roster spot, Shead has been impressed by what he has seen from Amadi.
"He's shown No. 1 that he's smart, that he can go out there and process different positions, nickel and free safety, and then he runs around and shows elite effort, shows he can play at a high level," Shead said. "He's doing great out there. He's learning, he's a smart, smart kid, and he's doing a good job."
Photos from Thursday's practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Saturday's preseason game against the Los Angeles Charges.