RENTON — By one standard, there may be nowhere for Ugo Amadi to go but down from here.
Just two games into his NFL career and the Seahawks defensive back has already turned in what coach Pete Carroll called “a perfect play. It really was.’’
The play, which occurred with just under two minutes left in the first half of a preseason game Sunday at Minnesota, came when Amadi, lined up as a gunner to the left on a punt by Michael Dickson, powered and sped his way through a double-team at the line of scrimmage, then raced downfield to make a right-shoulder hit on Minnesota returner Bisi Johnson at almost the exact moment the ball arrived 53 yards downfield (the entire play took nine seconds).
It was almost hard to tell what was better — the way Amadi beat the double team of Jayron Kearse and Duke Thomas, leaving each yards in the dust, or a tackle that not only couldn’t have been better timed but also was exactly how the NFL would draw up leading with the shoulder and not the head.
“A great Hawk tackle,’’ Carroll called it, referring to “the timing of it, the form tackle, The shoulder. … He showed thousands of kids what it looks like to tackle somebody in the open field.’’
It wasn’t just Carroll who was left raving.
A website named TheSpun.com called it “The Most Impressive Play of the Preseason’’ and former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz tweeted a video of it stating “How to make an NFL roster.’’ (Though Schwartz may be a little biased — like Amadi, he played at Oregon).
Amadi tweeted about it himself, with a video of the play and the simple heading Y1, which he said stands for “Year 1” in the NFL.
So what did he mean by that?
“Just that this is what I am able to bring to the table, I guess,’’ Amadi said Wednesday. “This is how I want to be able to come into the NFL. I wanted my presence to be felt and I want to make sure that I’m not here just to play around. I’m here to make a living and make a name for myself. That’s what its all about.’’
Amadi, taken in the fourth round at No. 132 overall, seems well on his way.
Through two preseason games, Amadi is tied for the lead in special teams tackles with three. He has two tackles and a pass defense while playing cornerback and safety and leads Seattle with 19 yards on four punt returns (with what could have been decent gains on two returns in the opener against Denver called back due to penalties). He also had a kickoff return for 15 yards.
“He has just done something every time he has been on the field,’’ Carroll said, noting that in Wednesday’s practice he forced a fumble. “He’s been a really exciting player for us.’’
Also a really versatile one, which was part of the reason the Seahawks wanted him in the first place.
Amadi has played mostly free safety in the preseason games but also has seen some action at nickel, and Carroll said Wednesday: “He’s still competing for the nickel spot. These (final) two preseason games will be enormous for him to show how far he’s come along. It’s really about the details and the intricacies of playing the position. He’s just got to catch up. He’s really a bright kid, too. There’s no indication that he’s not going to learn it but it’s just kind of a race to the opener.”
Having to learn two spots while still trying to find his way in the NFL could be viewed as a challenge, but Amadi says he understands fully why the team wants to use him at both spots while they figure out the best place for him.
“I’m still new,’’ he said. “I’m still trying to understand things.’’
The Seahawks likely view Amadi as able to be a backup throughout the secondary on game day while serving as a core special teams player — the kind of role DeShawn Shead had for years in his early days with the team.
Amadi being a big factor on special teams is a given — it was among the stated reasons the Seahawks drafted him after they had some leaky performances late last season.
Many figured his biggest immediate special teams impact might be as a returner after he led the Pac-12 with an average of 15.93 yards per punt return last season, but he’s proven a quick study in coverage, as the play against the Vikings illustrated.
Amadi said he played the gunner role at Oregon but had never faced the kind of double team the Vikings lined up Sunday.
Amadi said assistant special teams coach Larry Izzo “has really been harping on all the gunners how beating the double team is very vital in the NFL because that’s what you are going to get a lot of every Sunday. So I’ve just been honing all the reps I get, just making every opportunity.’’
His phone buzzing following Sunday’s game was an indication that, at least on this night, he had succeeded.
Amadi said he came back to see a number of notifications about the hit, some of which he said were from people “just shocked that I made that big of a hit.’’
Upon reflection, though, Amadi said he understood that sentiment.
“It’s because I’m sure they were surprised how perfectly I timed that up,’’ he said. “You don’t see that too often. I hadn’t seen it before. So I guess that’s why they were all surprised.’’
They won’t be next time.