With Seahawks training camp kicking off later this month, Seahawks.com is taking a look at 10 of the most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2021 season. Today we're looking at the deep competition at cornerback, and tomorrow we'll dive into the competition for the No. 3 receiver spot.
For as long as Pete Carroll has been coaching the Seahawks, the former defensive back's coach has headed into every season with a pretty good idea of who would be starting at at least one cornerback spot.
In 2010 and 2011, Marcus Trufant was the former Pro-Bowler and holdover from the Holmgren era who started at left cornerback, at least until his 2011 season was cut short by injury. From 2012 on Richard Sherman was an obvious starter at left cornerback through the 2017 season, at which point Shaquill Griffin moved into that left corner role for the past three seasons.
Heading into the 2021 season, however, there are no sure things when it comes to starting jobs at corner. That's not to say that the Seahawks don't like the depth and talent they have there, but with Griffin leaving in free agency, as well as 2020 Week 1 starter Quinton Dunbar, there figures to be more open competition for the two starting cornerback jobs than there has ever been in the Pete Carroll/John Schneider era.
"The cornerback position is going to be really competitive," Carroll said during last month's minicamp. "We've got a good structure of guys, we've got different style of guys who can play. We've got some long guys, some big guys, we've got some quickness, we've got a whole mixture of guys who can play. The competition is going to be wide open; it's going to take us all of camp to figure it out."
As Carroll notes, the competition will be wide open, but if there were going to be favorites heading into camp, it would likely be D.J. Reed, who finished the season playing very well as Seattle's right cornerback, and Ahkello Witherspoon, a former starter in San Francisco who was one of Seattle's first addition in free agency last spring.
But there are plenty of experienced players, as well as rookie Tre Brown, who will be competing to beat those two out for starting jobs. The Seahawks still have Tre Flowers, who has started 37 games over his first three seasons and who was playing arguably the best football of his career last season before being sidelined by an injury that opened the door to Reed taking over at right corner. Damarious Randall, who joined the Seahawks last year as a safety, is going back to cornerback, the position he began his career playing as a first-round pick of the Packers, recording 10 interceptions and 32 passes defensed in 39 games, 30 of them starts. The Seahawks also added Pierre Desir, who has started 44 games, including 31 over the past three seasons.
So while there is uncertainty when it comes to the starting jobs, the Seahawks don't agree with the perception that cornerback is a position to be concerned about heading into the season.
"I feel like we've got great guys," Reed said. "It's kind of disrespectful (calling cornerback a question mark), but it's just like, it is what it is. I only played half the season, obviously, because of my torn pec, but I felt like when I was out there, I was playing at a high level. So for it to be question mark, it's kind of disrespectful, but I mean that's just the nature of the game. But Pierre Desir, he looks really good right now, same as Ahkello, same as Tre—both Tres—so I feel like we got good guys there."
And while the two outside spots will be the focus of attention in camp, the nickel corner spot is also pretty intriguing. Last year Marquise Blair was one of the stars of training camp and won that role after converting from safety, but he unfortunately went down with a torn ACL in Week 2. Ugo Amadi played well taking over that role, which means that even with Blair coming back healthy, he will likely face some competition for that spot. Whoever wins that job, the Seahawks will have a very talented player missing out, so it will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and his staff find ways to get both on the field in certain packages.