RENTON — As the Seahawks head to Atlanta for the season opener Sunday against the Falcons, here are five players who loom as particularly interesting to watch.
Blair returns Sunday to the site of one of his three starts last season, when he filled in at safety in place of an injured Bradley McDougald in a game the Seahawks won 27-20. But they allowed 443 net passing yards, the third most in team history.
Two weeks later Quandre Diggs got healthy and joined McDougald at safety, and Blair played just 19 snaps in the final seven games of the season.
Now Blair has a new role as the starting nickel cornerback, adapting so well that coach Pete Carroll has called him the “brightest surprise” of camp and compelling K.J. Wright to say this week the Seahawks will play more nickel defense because they’ve “got to have Marquise on the field this year.”
Heady praise for Blair, a second-round draft pick in 2019 who appears to be making the kind of second-year jump the team hoped he could. Sunday’s game will begin to show just how much confidence the team has to leave him on the field, with Atlanta sure to test him early.
Dunbar likely will make his Seahawks debut Sunday at right cornerback, though Carroll was still being coy Friday about whether Dunbar will start.
The guess here is that he does, though Carroll said to also expect Tre Flowers to play some. Flowers was the starter at the RCB spot the past two years, but the Seahawks acquired Dunbar in a trade with Washington in March to take it over.
Dunbar, though, had a late start to training camp (he didn’t practice until Aug. 16) and missed a few other practices over the past few weeks — he was out a week before returning Wednesday — which led to Carroll being vague about the starting role this week.
Flowers ran with the starters during the practices Dunbar missed, and Carroll said again Friday he is playing the best he has in his three years.
“Both of those guys are likely to play in this game, and we’ll let you know in time who will start,” Carroll said Friday. “But Quinton’s had a really good camp, and he’s shown us the things we needed to see, and this is the best that we’ve seen from Tre. So it’s a good situation. The competition has helped us.”
Wright, entering his 10th season, remains the starting weakside linebacker with Brooks listed behind him. But the Seahawks have hinted they’ll find a way to get their 2020 first-round pick on the field. One possibility could be replacing Wright in sub packages, such as the nickel defense, or maybe just getting a series or two of his own to work alongside Bobby Wagner.
Carroll said this week the team could rotate at some positions more Sunday than they would usually do because of the unique offseason.
“There is some conversation we’ve had about that, about making sure that we see a lot of guys play early on because we haven’t had the games, and just to make sure we don’t overburden somebody week one, week two,” Carroll said.
Count on Brooks seeing the field in some capacity and the team finally getting its first in-game look at the 27th overall pick of the 2020 draft.
Seattle’s 2020 third-round pick out of Louisiana State is the only member of the rookie class assured of starting the game, having held on to the right-guard spot throughout camp.
That he played in 15 games last year for an undefeated LSU team that won the national title means he’s used to high-pressure situations. Still, the NFL is a different deal, and Lewis and all the rookies will be thrown into the fire of regular-season games this year.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, though, said he doesn’t think Lewis will be fazed.
“He’s just a competitor,” Schottenheimer said during a Zoom call with media this week. “He just sits in there. And is it always perfect? No. But he just lines up and plays the next snap.”
Collier began the week listed as the starter at the defensive-end spot that would have been Jadeveon Clowney’s had he returned (officially, the five-technique end position, and not the LEO or rush-end role that will be held by Benson Mayowa, Bruce Irvin and Alton Robinson).
When he met the media via Zoom on Friday, Carroll reiterated that Collier will start while noting that Rasheem Green will also play substantially.
“There will be a good rotation there,” Carroll said. “But he’s (starting) because he’s earned it and he’s played really well.”
This is a particularly pivotal year for Collier, who played just 152 snaps and had just one tackle last year as a rookie.
Coaches this week noted that Collier has shed a little weight and looks a little quicker and is healthy after dealing with an ankle injury last year.
“He’s in better shape than he was a year ago,” Carroll said. “Healthier and quicker, stronger in every way. And then he made it through camp healthy as well. Remember, he got banged up pretty early on there (last year), that really nasty ankle (injury). So we’ve just seen him much more to his ability level. And his ankle bothered him even when he came back last year, so we never really saw him. So he’s had a good camp. … Anxious to get him out there.”