_With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2019 season. Today, we look at the secondary, a position group that includes a couple of key position battles. Tomorrow, we'll continue with receiver, a position group that should feature a wide-open competition in training camp. _
While offseason workouts can sometimes provide a sneak peak at how things will look at a particular position, that wasn't the case for the Seahawks when it came to their secondary, especially at the two safety spots.
Tedric Thompson, a 10-game starter at free safety last year, was healthy, but with Bradley McDougald recovering from offseason knee surgery, with Lano Hill still working his way back from the hip injury that landed him on injured reserve late last season, and with second-round pick Marquise Blair limited in offseason workouts by a hamstring injury, the Seahawks couldn't get a good look at their various options when it comes to finding the best safety duo.
"It's a little bit difficult because Bradley is not out there," Carroll said of evaluating that position following minicamp. "Bradley really has been the leader and the best communicator for us and just the experience and all of that. And then Hill hasn't been there, and he made a big push at the end of the year and he's a guy really in the mix. So we're going to have to reserve judgment a little bit in how it's going to wind up in the starting spots. It was really good for the younger guys to get the reps. (Ugo) Amadi got all kinds of turns. We missed out also on Marquise not getting his time. So it's going to be an interesting spot when we come back to campus. We're going to have to make up a lot of ground there. I think Bradley is scheduled to be fine first day of camp and should be out there going; that'll be really important. He'll help us continuity wise. T2 (Tedric Thompson) played really well for us all along and been really consistent. So that's been good. But there's going to be some comp there. It's going to be interesting to see what happens."
Most or all of those players are expected to be healthy when camp begins next week, which makes safety one of the more intriguing positions to watch during training camp and the preseason. McDougald, who was one of Seattle's top defensive players last season, figures to win one of the starting jobs, but his versatility allows him to play strong and free safety, which gives the Seahawks more options for the other spot. After Earl Thomas went down with a broken leg in Week 4 last year, the Seahawks went with a combo of McDougald at strong safety and Thompson at free safety, but when Thompson was out with an injury late in the season, Hill started two games at strong safety with McDougald moving to free. And Hill played well enough in those two games that he might have stayed in the starting lineup had he not sustained a hip injury that landed him on IR just as Thompson was getting healthy.
"I'm encouraged about the spot," Carroll said of the safety position prior to the draft. "Lano did a really nice job late in the season, he really came on. We chose him with the thought that he's an extraordinary athlete, really fast, he's big and strong, we thought he was the best tackler in the draft. In transitioning to the spot, all of a sudden he just popped last year, past the midway point, late in the season he just looked like he really embraced the position, the challenges, the questions, all that kind of stuff. So that's a big positive. Bradley is a terrific football player. Bradley was working through some stuff last year, so he wasn't as healthy as he would liked to have been. He's feeling great now, and we're hoping he'll be back in great shape. Then T2 (Thompson) was a terrific performer for us. Remember how well he competed through camp, he made such a big impression. We know he's a good player, he's a smart kid. So it's a good trio, at least. We're in good shape right there."
And with the Seahawks drafting Blair in the second round and Oregon's Ugo Amadi in the fourth round, there will also be two talented rookies fighting to earn roles on defense in addition to those three veterans.
While there is only room for two starting safeties in the starting lineup, the Seahawks have shown a willingness in recent years, particularly since the addition of McDougald in 2017, to play with three safeties at times. And depending on how the competition plays out between Hill and Thompson, and on how quickly Blair develops, there could be a chance for multiple safeties to earn significant playing time even if not as starters who play every down.
As for cornerback, the competition will be on as usual, but the two outside jobs appear to be set with last year's starters, Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers, both returning in 2019, and with both having a real chance to be much-improved from last season—Griffin because he is approaching the year with a new mindset and a slimmed-down physique after what he considered to be a disappointing 2018; and Flowers because he is only in his second season playing the position after converting from safety as a rookie.
"The sky is the limit for him really," Carroll said of Flowers at the end of the season. "He's got all of the attributes that you're looking for. He's a real heady player too, and he's going to learn and he's going to grow. That savvy that he gains—he's one of those guys that the day he steps back with us in April, he's going to be a whole new football player because of what he's been through. You can't clear away from that first experience until you get away from it and then you look back and all of the stuff, all of the lessons—he should be a tremendously improved player, which is really bright, because he played a good football season for us anyway."
Even if Flowers and Griffin do end up being the starting corners as expected, that doesn't mean there isn't competition at cornerback. In today's NFL, the nickel corner is essential a starting job, playing upwards of two-thirds of the snaps in any given game, and Seattle's nickel the past to seasons, Justin Coleman, left in free agency, meaning there's significant playing time up for grabs in camp.
Akeem King, who saw his role increase late last season, might be the leading candidate for that job heading into camp, but he'll have his work cut out for him competing with everyone from Kalan Reed to Jeremy Boykins to veteran free-agent addition Jamar Taylor to Amadi, who while listed as a safety, is a player who played all over in Oregon's secondary, and who is expected to get a look in the nickel role in camp.
"It's going to be a wide-open (competition) and we'll see how it goes," Carroll said of the nickel spot.
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The Seahawks rookies report back to the Virginia Mason Athletic Center for 2019 Training Camp.