If Denver receiver Nick Williams and Seahawks safety Marquise Blair had been in the same situation a year ago — a pass floating high over the middle of the field, Blair charging in for a full-speed, take-no-prisoners collision — Williams might not have recovered from the hit as quickly as he did Thursday night.
But Blair is learning.
He said he’s been trying hard, real hard, and he tried hard to hit the right way.
In college, Blair had a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in college football. Yes, he sometimes went a little too far — he might have hit a little too hard or a little too high or a little too much with his helmet.
As a senior at Utah last year, twice he was ejected from games for “targeting” an opponent with the crown of his helmet.
That, of course, is a no-no — in college and in the NFL — and that’s a habit Seahawks coaches have been trying, and trying hard, to break out of Blair leading up to the preseason opener against Denver.
So when Drew Lock’s fourth-quarter pass was floating over the middle of the field at CenturyLink Field, and Williams was looking over his shoulder to try to make the catch, Blair charged in, lowered his right shoulder and leveled a loud hit across the receiver’s left shoulder and chest.
For Blair, that’s a step in the right direction.
“At Utah,” he said, “I probably would have (led with his head), you know. But I’ve been working on it.”
A second-round pick in April’s draft, Blair has been studying film of former Seahawks safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor — trying to figure out how to remain a fearless enforcer and do it cleanly.
“Kam and Earl — they did it perfectly,” Blair said. “When I got here, the coaches made sure (to tell him): ‘Leave your head out of it.’ That’s why I kind of went sideways (on his hit Thursday) because that’s what we’ve been taught.”
He was still penalized for unnecessary roughness against Williams, and officials reviewed the play for a potential ejection. The hit, they ruled, wasn’t that egregious, and Blair remained in the game.
Afterward, he said he wasn’t sure exactly what he did wrong on the hit. Pete Carroll offered some clarity.
“We were very close to doing that exactly right,” Carroll said. “That’s a left shoulder hit for him coming in, and he chose to hit with his right shoulder, and so it places his helmet position in question. … But to make it so that they can’t (call) the penalty on it, you hit with your left shoulder so your helmet is not in front of the receiver. We didn’t quite get that done right, but it still was an excellent effort to do what we’re trying and get the head out of our game.
“So we’ll get better and he’ll learn, and we’ll grow from that.”
Blair finished with five tackles in his Seahawks debut — including one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit — while playing both safety positions. He took ownership of one obvious error, when he chased after the QB in the backfield instead of staying with the running back, who made an easy catch for a sizable gain.
Carroll had said earlier in the week Blair was one of the rookies he was most eager to see in the preseason opener, and Blair now looks like a legitimate challenger to Tedric Thompson, among others, for a starting job.
“You can see that he’s a ballplayer. We loved what we saw from him tonight,” Carroll said. “We also learned a lot about him. He makes one play coming off the edge that it was not a blitz, but he took off and made a big hit in the backfield, and then he tried it again, and that’s when they dumped the ball in the flat.
“He has a lot to catch up on. But, he showed you that he’s a hitter, he’s aggressive and tough. We can work with that now. It was exciting to see the plays he made.”