Ugo Amadi finished the 2019 season as Seattle' nickel defensive back, and early in the offseason, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll declared him the leading candidate hold that position in 2020.
But then the Seahawks decided to try fellow 2019 draft pick Marquise Blair at that spot, and the second-year safety thrived in that role in training camp, beating out Amadi for what is essentially a starting role—Blair played 70 percent of Seattle's defensive snaps in Week 1.
But Amadi losing out on that job wasn't about him not performing well, but rather a situation where another player just came in and had a great camp to win the job. So with Blair unfortunately now out for the season due to a knee injury, the Seahawks have a lot of confidence in Amadi taking over a role he held down at the end of last season.
With Blair playing safety in place of an ejected Quandre Diggs, then eventually going down in the second quarter with a knee injury, Amadi played most of Seattle's Week 2 win over New England as the nickel back, and he played well, finishing second on the team with eight tackles, including one tackle for loss, and both he and his coaches are confident he'll only improve from there.
"He knows the position quite well," Carroll said. "He's an effective football player in that, wherever you put them in the game, things happen. And he's been really special in the (special) teams area, and the other night, he was all over the field. So, excited to have that kind of experience backing up. It's not a wealth of experience, because he played half a year or whatever last year, but it's good to have him and we do trust him and he knows our system really well.
The nickel role is an important one in today's NFL, and one that calls on a defensive back to bring versatility to the position. On one play, a nickel might cover a speedy slot receiver like Tyler Lockett, while on the next play he might guard a tight end, or have to be physical in run support, or be used as a blitzer.
As Amadi described it, "with a nickel spot, you've got to run like a corner and you've got to hit like a linebacker." And Amadi, a fourth-round pick out of Oregon, has a lot of versatility in his game, having played multiple defensive back spots for the Ducks while also returning punts. In his short time with the Seahawks, he has worked at free safety and nickel on defense, and has been one of Seattle's top special teams players, particularly as a gunner on punt coverage.
"He's really smart," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He's up for the challenge. He's a natural ballplayer, he understands the game, he understands motions and run gaps he understands leveraging and coverage. So it's just a matter of playtime. He's been in big games for us, he started in our playoff game last year so, he he's a guy that we are very familiar with. He can play ball, I don't think there's any question about that."
As Norton and Carroll pointed out, Amadi gained some valuable experience late last season after taking over the nickel role, and because of that, as well as the work he put in in the offseason training in his hometown of Nashville with other NFL players from the area, he feels like he's a much improved player in Year 2.
"I feel like everything felt kind of slowed down for me—the physical aspect and the mental aspect," Amadi said. "Having that year under my belt really helped me out a lot. Once I got out there with my opportunity, I just cut it loose."
Most important to Amadi's offseason work, he said, was getting better prepared for the physical nature of the nickel spot that can demand so many different things of a player.
"I feel like I've grown a lot in the physicality part," he said. "I'm really taking a lot of effort into getting off on blocks, getting physical in tackles, just being nasty in the trenches."
The Seahawks will miss having Blair for the rest of this season, but in Amadi they know they have a talented young player ready to take over that role.
"He's way ahead of where it was last year when he was just barely getting going," Carroll said. "So as he comes back to us, we won't have any restrictions on what we can do and we look forward to his input. We need him to step up and be a factor. He's filling some big shoes. Marquise really had done a great job to this point, so we're calling him. He's going to play a little bit different, he has a little different style to him, but we're really counting him to come through."
Practice photos from the Seahawks' Wednesday workout at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Week 3 vs. the Dallas Cowboys at CenturyLink Field.