RENTON — Through the first two days of Seahawks training camp, third-year defensive back Marquise Blair has been a constant presence all over the secondary.
Blair has lined up at nickel, the position he moved to a year ago. He’s lined up at strong safety, often filling in for Jamal Adams with the starting defense as Adams sits out on-field drills while his contract situation gets settled.
He’s lined up at free safety, a spot where he saw one of his three starts as a rookie in 2019.
And he’s lined up in specialty packages, the team having made no secret it will get as creative as it can to get him on the field as often as it can.
“They’ve got me everywhere,’’ Blair said this week.
That Blair is able to be anywhere is a victory in its own right after he suffered an ACL tear in the second game of the season a year ago against the New England Patriots.
Early in the second quarter, Blair was hit in the right knee by teammate K.J. Wright as the two tackled Patriots running back Sony Michel on the night of Sept. 20.
In his typically direct style, Blair agreed with the assessment most had who watched it live.
“It looked disgusting,’’ Blair said.
And if everyone watching was hoping for the best, Blair said he thought realistically in the moment — “I knew it was something.’’
Indeed, Blair had some unhappy firsthand experience to draw on, having suffered an ACL tear in his left knee while at Utah in November 2017. That injury occurred in a game against UCLA when he fell without being touched while coming up to make a tackle.
Blair made a quick recovery from that injury to play all 14 games for the Utes in 2018, doing well enough to compel the Seahawks to take him with the 47th overall pick of the draft in 2019.
So, when the diagnosis of another ACL tear arrived in September, Blair understood the road ahead.
“I mean it was tough the first couple of days,’’ Blair said. “But I’d already had an ACL (tear) in college so I just knew how to recover from it.’’
Blair again proved a quick healer and was back on the field for the Seahawks Organized Team Activities in May, roughly eight months after an injury that can often take longer from which to recover.
And Blair said, if anything, he thinks he’s gained a step along the way.
“I feel faster, smarter, stronger — everything,’’ Blair said.
Coach Pete Carroll agrees, saying in June: “He’s stronger now than he was a year ago at this time, more physically fit in general. Really a high bar that we’re shooting for with him and really expect him to be a big factor.”
The only question is where.
Blair is officially in a battle for the nickel cornerback spot — the fifth defensive back who takes the field on obvious passing downs — with Ugo Amadi, who became the starter there when Blair was injured.
But Blair has run with the first unit so far and appears to be the front-runner.
Blair said he intends to keep the job.
“That’s my brother,’’ he says of Amadi, who was drafted 132nd overall in the same class. “He’s a great player. But at the end of the day, we’ve both got mouths to feed.’’
Just as important for his future, though, could be the reps he’s getting at safety with Adams out.
The only other safety Seattle has drafted higher than Blair during the Carroll/John Schneider era is Earl Thomas (14th overall in 2010).
And during his first preseason in 2019, Blair flashed rare playmaking ability — both in his tackling and covering — that revived memories of the Legion of Boom.
Carroll, though, noted at the time Blair still had a lot to learn. While awed by Blair’s big plays, he seemed just as annoyed at a couple of lapses in preseason games that led to big plays the other way.
“I don’t have any reservation in saying he can do all of the things we need him to do,’’ Carroll said in 2019. “He’s just got to learn what we are doing and figure it out and make sure he can be really tight with all of his assignments and responsibilities, and that’s going to take some time. That takes some time before we trust him, because we have guys that we do trust.’’
So Blair headed to the bench to start the year.
Injuries led to Blair getting three starts at safety in the first half of the season.
But Carroll still seemed to think Blair was not quite ready for a full-time safety role — a spot Carroll might view as being as pivotal to the defense as any other — with Seattle then trading for Quandre Diggs to take over at free safety in October 2019.
Last July, the Seahawks traded for Adams.
With Adams appearing set to soon sign a long-term deal, Seattle will be set at strong safety for years to come.
But Diggs is entering the final year of his contract, and if Seattle were to decide that Blair could be a suitable free safety, that could play into what the Seahawks ultimately decide with Diggs.
“The time that he can take advantage of right now when Jamal’s not there really helps him get more reps and show us where he fits in,’’ Carroll said this week. “Exciting football player for us.’’
Not that nickel isn’t important. But nickel is a situational position — most teams are in the nickel about two-thirds of the time — and if the Seahawks think Blair can play safety, the idea of getting him on the field every down might prove alluring down the road.
That, though, is not a question Blair said he’s worried about now.
“I’ll do whatever,’’ he said. “I think I can play anything on defense. I think I can play any position.’’
And this year, he’s getting the chance to prove it.