Seattle second-year strong safety Dion Bailey is excited to get a chance Saturday to show what he can do against Philip Rivers and that he can fill in for Kam Chancellor if needed.
With each day, the odds increase that Dion Bailey ends up as Seattle’s starting strong safety in the season opener at St. Louis.
Certainly, there is still time for Kam Chancellor to return and fill that role. But with just three days to the third preseason game, and no apparent end in sight to Chancellor’s holdout, the Seahawks have to start treating as reality the chance that Bailey could be the other starter at safety against the Rams, with the hope that Earl Thomas is back and ready at free safety following off-season shoulder surgery.
How ready Bailey would be for that role should become a lot clearer Saturday night when the Seahawks face San Diego.
It is expected that Philip Rivers will start at quarterback for the Chargers and play a while, operating one of the better passing offenses in the NFL — one that beat the Seahawks 30-21 in San Diego last September.
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Bailey, a second-year player from USC, said Wednesday he can’t wait for the chance to play against the Chargers and Rivers. One reason is that he is from Lakewood in the Los Angeles area and the game will be as close as he can get to again playing in his hometown (for now, anyway).
But he says he also wants to show the Seahawks and the NFL that he can play well against the pass. He has gotten a reputation as a hard hitter in the first two preseason games, a rep left over from his days as a linebacker at USC but says that’s far from all he is on the field.
“This game I really want to put on display my coverage ability,” he said. “We haven’t really been tested in the air this preseason, but we are going against a passing offense this game and I’m really excited. I’ve always been a guy to get my hands on the ball and be around the ball so I’m excited to show what I can do against a guy like Philip Rivers. It doesn’t get any better.”
Bailey has lived up to that rep for being around the ball in camp, Seattle coaches say, one reason he has ascended to the starting strong safety spot ahead of DeShawn Shead, who in game two of the preseason against Kansas City was used at cornerback.
“He had an amazing ability to get to the ball, a bunch of interceptions,” said Seahawks’ assistant head coach for defense Rocky Seto, who as an assistant at USC helped recruit Bailey to that school. “It’s shown up on the field in practices and hopefully it translates into games, too.”
Some have wondered if the Seahawks aren’t talking up Bailey to send a message to Chancellor. But those around the team insist the excitement about Bailey is genuine, and that the team has no choice at this moment but to embrace the idea that Bailey could be the starter at strong safety this season.
“He has that savviness, that football makes sense to him,” Seto said. “He’s usually in the right spot. He hits hard. You saw him make some great open field tackles against the Chiefs, so we are really excited about his progress.”
If Bailey has shown a flaw in two the first two preseason games, it is that he has at times been out of position overrunning plays. But that’s also something easily excused by the excitement of youth.
Bailey admits his eagerness to be everywhere all at once hurt him in the Denver game.
“Game one, the excitement got to me,” he said. “I was really just running everywhere. But I was much more under control with my tackling (against Kansas City, when he made three solo tackles). Game three, I expect to keep taking steps forward.”
The two games have convinced him he can play in the NFL, something he never really doubted but that he needed affirmed after missing much of last season with an ankle injury, which for a time had him off the Seattle roster.
“You know, every player when they first play in an NFL game it’s always the question of ‘what is it going to be like? Do I really belong?”’ Bailey said. “But these last two preseason games have been a huge confidence builder for me and just the feedback I have gotten from players and coaches has been huge. It’s going to pay huge dividends for me when my number is called to really go out there and show what I can do.’’
That could be Sept. 13 in St, Louis, something that might seem unfathomable to Seattle fans given what Chancellor has done since becoming the starter in 2011 but something the team has to accept as a possibility.
“I don’t think about it at all,’’ Bailey said. “I think about being a starter on Saturday. That’s going to be a dream come true for me, going back home, playing in California in front of family and friends for the first time. I’ll be living a dream there, and any other start from there is just a positive for me.
“I’m not worried if Kam comes back and I’m not playing. I’m in a win-win situation. If I get to play in the season, it’s only a win. No one expected me to get to show what I can do. If I don’t, no one expected me to play, they expect Kam to play. So it’s cool to me.”