RENTON — Another Seahawks practice, another big play from rookie safety Marquise Blair.
This time, Blair broke perfectly on a pass from Paxton Lynch intended for Terry Wright, leaping to pick it off near the sideline, much to the delight of defenders who immediately enveloped him in celebration.
They liked it even better when coach Pete Carroll decided that was a good way to end practice, three horns sending everyone off the field.
The interception was one of a handful of standout plays Blair has turned in during camp. And those, coupled with his performance in Thursday’s preseason opener against Denver, including two hits that revived memories of the Legion of Boom days, have stamped him as one of the team’s most exciting young players.
But when asked after Friday’s practice about Blair, Carroll seemed to pump the brakes on the idea that Blair soon be breaking into the starting lineup.
A play in the Denver game that stood out to Carroll as much as the hits came when Blair freelanced and decided to rush the quarterback, with Drew Lock then throwing to a receiver in the spot vacated by Blair for a 24-yard gain.
Carroll likes hard hits and big plays. But what likes more is running the defense the way it is called. So it was instructive to hear Carroll’s response about Blair on Friday.
“He has shown good man-to-man stuff,’’ Carroll said. “His matchup stuff is good, the plays that he’s made in the game last week demonstrated really good range, timing and break on the ball and all that. And the hits that he made on both of his downfield throws (against Denver), that shows you that he’s got good sense and awareness and all that. Had a great play today, final play of the day to make a pick for the defense.
“I don’t have any reservation in saying he can do all of the things we need him to do. 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 — they know what they are doing. So he has to work his way all of the way through that. So the competition is very stiff. But he has shown great flashes already, so we are excited about him.’’
That might just be some Carroll messaging, and maybe the team is indeed priming Blair to get into the starting lineup soon.
Blair has dabbled in free safety ever since joining the Seahawks, but played there a lot this week — that’s where he was when he picked off Lynch’s pass to end Friday’s practice — working often with Lano Hill with the second-team defense behind Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald.
Blair playing at free could allow him to eventually bump off Thompson and pair with McDougald, who has said he prefers strong safety.
But trust is a big thing with Carroll, and especially his safeties, the last line of defense and players in a position where just one mistake can mean the difference in a win or a loss.
Recall how hard Carroll was on Earl Thomas early on, once saying that Thomas cost the Seahawks hundreds of yards his rookie season because he was out of position, eventually getting bad enough that he even briefly considered benching him.
“He won’t want to admit to this, but there was a time where I said, ‘You know what, Earl, I’m going to have to sit you down, because it’s getting to the point where we don’t know what you’re going to do next,’ ” Carroll said in 2014. “Earl at the time thought that he needed to make plays, and I convinced him that we needed him to play the defense that we’re calling.”
Carroll said it took a few years but Thomas finally got to a point where “we can totally count on him in carrying out the schemes in the defense.”
Thomas fully acknowledged later that was an issue in his early days, and even sometimes in his later years would still grouse that playing the defense Carroll’s way sometimes came at the expense of his own statistics.
“I still kind of battle with that,” Thomas said in 2014. “I just always want to be around the ball. I want to be around the ball, plain and simple. My rookie year, that would take me out of position, because I wanted to be at the point of attack at all times. I just had to get adjusted to my role.”
That’s why it was equally instructive when Carroll praised Tedric Thompson earlier this week for, essentially, being trustworthy.
“He plays like a veteran,’’ Carroll said. “He knows what’s going on, he can make all the calls, he can help guys get lined up. He understands what’s going on the other side of the ball well. He can help a lot in recognizing and identifying stuff. He was a fast starter, learning-wise, so he’s in good shape right now. He’s like a true veteran playing back there.”
So, while Blair might be the flashier player, and maybe the one with more potential — though it seems absurd to write off Thompson just yet, as he enters his third season and having started just 10 games — it’s Thompson who Carroll can, for now, rely on to always do the right thing. That’s in some contrast to when Thomas was a rookie, and he was by far the best option, big learning curve or no, and also making a lot of money in the pre-2011 CBA rookie-wage-scale days.
How long it takes Blair to earn Carroll’s trust — and a starting spot — might also depend in part on how well Thompson parlays playing “like a veteran’’ into productivity on game day.
Each will be fascinating to watch.
Here’s a bit more of what we learned at practice Friday.
Ansah now battling groin issue
There was some excitement the second week of training camp when Ziggy Ansah — the team’s marquee free-agent signing who was given a deal worth up to $9 million to replace the pass-rushing of the departed Frank Clark — put pads on and did some conditioning work in uniform.
But we haven’t seen much out of that out of Ansah lately, and Friday we found out why – Ansah is now dealing with a groin injury that Carroll said he suffered on Sunday.
Carroll said the strength is now back in Ansah’s shoulder — he had surgery to fix a labrum injury that limited him to seven games last season — but that it’s the groin now keeping him from practicing.
“He had a minor groin pull that he got in workouts, ‘’ Carroll said. “… It’s going to take him a bit, it’s not a major injury at all. We’re really thrilled, his strength is back, he’s made it back to full strength in terms of his rehab for his shoulder, we’re just waiting on his groin right now.”
That sounds ominous. Even if Carroll says the strength in the shoulder is back you’d think Ansah is going to need some practicing to make sure it’s going to work the way he wants and all that
But Carroll insisted that Ansah will be ready for the regular season saying “I don’t think so’’ when asked if the groin issue could “jeopardize ’’ his readiness for the season.
“He’s got plenty of time to get back,’’ Carroll said. “It’s not a serious injury at all, it’s just something that’s going to nag him for a little bit.”
No one had really thought Ansah would play much, if at all, in the preseason. But time is starting to run out some. After Sunday’s game at Minnesota, the Seahawks won’t practice again until Wednesday. Then it’s a game in Los Angeles on Saturday, and then the quick week heading into the preseason finale and then the regular season.
Cassius Marsh continues to start at the LEO rush end spot in Ansah’s absence, and his signing — and ability to produce this season — looms more important than ever.
A setback for Shaquem?
The second-year linebacker missed some time in practice earlier this week due to a bruised knee suffered against Denver. But when he was back in pads later in the week all seemed fine.
But Friday, Griffin was nowhere to be seen and Carroll said the injury flared up again so he was held out, with it unclear if he will play against the Vikings.
How secure is Griffin’s place on the team is a subject of much debate. The Seahawks want to use him more in pass-rush roles. But it’s hard to see them often taking out any of their starting linebackers to get Griffin in there. He has important special-teams roles, but whether those would be enough to keep him on the team is unclear, especially with the added competition from rookies Cody Barton, who is a lock to make the team, and Ben Burr-Kirven, whose role is pretty similar — backup linebacker and special-teamer.
Carroll coy on who will play and how much vs. Vikings
Carroll opened his remarks to the media Friday saying that he had blown it last week when he had volunteered that Geno Smith would start in place of Russell Wilson and then confirmed that most starters wouldn’t play, with the team preferring to get younger players more work.
This time, Carroll said, he was going to leave everyone guessing who will play and how much.
“Have to wait and see,’’ he said. “Let’s get to game time.’’
Carroll, though, had earlier basically said to expect the starters to play some against Minnesota.
“The fact that we made it through it, I’m really fired up for this game now for those guys to get their first shot, and they are too,’’ Carroll said earlier this week. “I think the guys, you got to ask them to find out, but I think guys like Duane Brown, and I know Russ (Wilson), those guys, they’re dying to get out, they want to get out there and play, so not so bad.”
Has Carroll changed his mind, possibly wanting to again keep some veterans out of harm’s way, especially after the team had an especially long and intense week of practice?
The guess here is that he’s might just be being vague because he can but maybe also to just keep options open just in case.
The guess here is te starters will still play and all that, but maybe Carroll wants to reserve the right to let what happens in the game dictate how much guys play instead of publicly declaring anything.