The Morning After: Key Reserves Stand Out in 22-14 Win Over Broncos
Pete Carroll drastically changed the way he approaches preseason game number one by sitting the vast majority of starters, giving the team extended tape on players in the middle and back-end of the roster. A number of those youngsters showed they have the potential to help the team not only in the future, but right now.
S Marquise Blair
Blair was one of the many players acquired from John Schneider’s masterful conversion of the 21st pick in the first round into six players. Here is the draft tree as a reminder:
Blair had a slow start to camp as he was dealing with an injury, and has not made a lot of plays. The game was a chance for him to showcase his natural instincts and aggressiveness. He certainly did that.
Finishing tied with a team-leading six tackles, including a tackle for loss, as well as a pass defensed, a quarterback hit, and an LOB-style thumping of a receiver late, Blair arguably made more plays in this one game than Tedric Thompson has made in his entire career.
The performance was strong enough that I will be disappointed if we do not start to hear and see evidence of Blair challenging for the starting role opposite Bradley McDougald.
Many folks have been asking who would play free safety and who would play strong safety in that situation. The answer is a little complicated.
The first thing to understand is the Seahawks have different personnel at safety than they did when Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas were around. Those two fit perfectly in their respective roles and allowed the team to play almost exclusively in a single-high safety look that accentuated each player’s strengths.
There is nobody on the roster who can play sideline-to-sideline free safety the way Thomas could. The team will be adjusting their scheme to account for both the personnel they do have, and how opponents have been attacking them. That will mean more two-high safety looks with each responsible for different deep halves of the field. Less ground to cover requires less dynamic speed. It also allows for more disguising of coverages.
In that world, Blair and McDougald become more interchangeable parts as opposed to one truly being the free safety and the other being strong.
When the team does go to their classic single-high safety look, my best guess is McDougald would take that role more often, but Blair played plenty of free safety in college and could earn more time there if he can prove he has the discipline to be the last line of defense.
Even Thomas struggled with that as a rookie. That is why McDougald is the more likely answer. Blair showed some of that potential for youthful aggressive mistakes in this game by ad libbing a blitz on a bootlegging quarterback, which led to an easy completion and angry coaches.
I will gladly take those types of mistakes from a player who flashes playmaking ability and high ceiling physical traits such as Blair.
Thompson came into the league with a ballhawking reputation. He has done very little to live up to it. He has three pass breakups and one interception in his career. He rarely is even close to making plays. Last night, the Broncos got 50 of their 91 yards rushing on a single play. Thomas would often make those 15-yard gains instead of letting them break through the entire defense. Thompson simply does not have the speed or instincts to help in those moments.
Carroll was balanced in his review of Blair after the game. Let’s hope he is wise enough to bet on molding an aggressive playmaker over propping up a low-ceiling guy who is probably more assignment-correct.
Martin had a terrific night, finishing with a sack, a QB hit, and four hurries. He looked like the best pass rusher for either team, and a guy ready to build on a promising rookie season. ProFootballFocus gave him an elite 90.2 pass rush grade.
Bingo continued what has been a strong training camp transitioning to rush end instead of SAM linebacker. He also had a sack, a QB hit, and four hurries. The difference with Mingo is he was an awful tackler last year, and that frustration continued against the Broncos at a different position. He missed two tackles last night. They say pressure is almost as effective as a sack. We may have to count on that given Mingo’s propensity for whiffing when in position to bring down an opponent. Even making the quarterback move his feet would be more than we could have expected from him given his role last season and throughout his NFL career. This is looking like Carroll’s latest example of maximizing his player’s in ways others have failed to do.
This was my first time watching Barton play in the NFL, and he did not disappoint. He was washed out on the 50-yard run, but I’ve seen the same thing happen to Bobby Wagner. Some of that is on him. Some of it is on the guys in front of him.
The more important moment was when he knifed through a hole and took down the back for a loss. He was not given credit for a TFL, but he had one. He looked like the guy people have been hyping on that play. Smart, fast, and instinctive. His tackling was solid throughout. He looks like a guy who could grow into a legitimate NFL starter.
Griffin started the game by forcing a fumble on the opening kick with outstanding coverage. He made some impactful hits on defense as well. I expect him to make more flash plays as the preseason wears on, and he would be wise to make himself a must-keep special teamer. This was a great start as he earned the best special teams grade on the team (82.5), according to PFF.
Shaquill Griffin played a nice game as well. What was most encouraging was a play where the Broncos quarterback did not put a lot of heat on his throw and Griffin broke hard on the ball and nearly picked it off.
We have not seen Griffin break up many passes or pick them off. Making plays on the ball is really what I had hoped to see as evidence of growth last year when he instead took a step backwards. That he did so in the first game was nice to see.
Another rookie pick from Schneider’s trade-back bonanza, Amadi looked good at nickel corner and on special teams. He was sure-handed catching the ball as a punt returner, and made smart cuts to gain yards. If I’m Carroll, there is definitely a temptation to further evaluate Amadi in that role to give Tyler Lockett a break given he is the team’s top receiver.
He walked away with the second-best PFF special teams grade (81.8), as he added a tackle and an assist to his punt return contributions.
Amadi also got a QB hit on a blitz where he first showed coverage on a back headed to the flat before turning up-field and attacking the quarterback. He’s a gifted blitzer, which is super valuable at the nickel spot.
After getting his most time at safety, it would not surprise me to see the team focus him on slot corner, with a real chance to earn a starting spot or rotational snaps.
His stat line was unimpressive with one catch for eight yards. He very easily could have had another 80 yards had he hauled in a couple deep passes.
The really good news is Metcalf ran by defenders and got separation when he was asked to do so. He also drew a pass interference penalty.
An area of development is running through the ball on those routes. Russell Wilson throws a much better deep ball than Geno Smith or Paxton Lynch, and that alone could have been the difference between incompletions and catches. Set that aside, though, and look at what Metcalf could have done better.
He looked for the ball quite early and slowed his feet in the process on both passes. The diving attempt near the goal-line could have been close to a comfortable catch if he had maintained his sprint speed for at least two extra steps before trying to locate the ball.
That is something he can improve on. Getting separation is a big deal and promising to see.
Jefferson had a nice night early on causing disruption and getting into the backfield. He was only credited with one tackle, but he blew up two or three plays. The team depth chart listed him as the backup to Jarran Reed. Many fans seem to think he is only a defensive end. I have seen him exclusively playing defensive tackle during camp, and that is where I expect the team to keep him for the foreseeable future.
Calitro deserves credit for making plays. He has been good or great in every preseason game. The problem is he has been average or below average in every regular season game. I continue to be concerned he is a 4A player—good enough to abuse back-ups during the preseason, but not good enough to contribute during games that count.
That said, I cannot ignore that he is someone who could push Shaquem Griffin off the roster with continued standout play. He tied for the team-lead in tackles and had a pass break-up.
It was not a surprise that Ferguson had a big game or that fans quickly fell in love with him. He’s a big dude who easily could end up leading the team in preseason receiving this year.
He still has a very slim chance of making this roster. He has nothing to contribute on special teams, and will not be higher than fifth on the depth chart no matter what he does. It makes little sense to keep a fifth receiver who cannot contribute on special teams.
His best chance would be if the team decides to keep six receivers. The biggest challenge there? Take a look at the running back room. The team was forced to play a guy they signed off the street a day or two earlier because of all the injuries.
It makes a lot more sense to keep an extra running back than to keep six receivers. What could help is if the team does not keep a fullback. More on that in a minute.
I like Ferguson. I’d like to see him contribute next season. The challenge is how to keep him around until then. Practice squad remains the most likely path.
Bellore is the only fullback on the roster and he did not have a good game. His blocking was mediocre and he had two penalties on special teams. Should the team decide to cut him loose, that could be the extra roster spot they need for a receiver like Ferguson.
John Ursua and Gary Jennings
Ursua looked very Doug Baldwin-esque with his one catch on 3rd down, including how he moved after the ball was caught. His skills look NFL-ready, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the team has him above Ferguson on the roster cut list. My bet is he is going to be a productive NFL player for someone. He has the same challenge that Ferguson has in making this roster without being a contributor on special teams.
Jennings gets a mention here because he is not popping yet, and it’s getting late pretty early for him. A guy I once thought was a lock for the roster now seems squarely behind at least Ursua, and possibly Ferguson as well.
Turner is the guy I have penciled in as the fifth receiver. He only saw a handful of snaps early, which could be an indication the team sees him the same way I do, and wanted to get more snaps for other guys to evaluate. It could also mean I’m way off and he’s further down the depth chart than I realize. Time will tell. I’m not changing my assessment of him or the depth chart yet.
I was glad to see Penny show real acceleration on the third-down screen pass early in the game that he turned into a chunk play. He continues to look faster and more elusive than he did a season ago. I saw him break or avoid at least three tackles. He was far too easy to bring down last year.
Paxton Lynch and Geno Smith
I somewhat reluctantly reported that Lynch was outplaying Smith during training camp and got some understandable skepticism from some fans. He was undoubtedly the better player last night, and it would only be right for him to get a chance to compete against the tougher competition with the back-ups next week.
Smith was okay, but largely unimpressive. He still is probably the favorite to win the job because of Lynch’s limitations and questionable decision-making, but this is a far closer competition than I could have every predicted. Kudos to Lynch.
This group stood out. Kick coverage, punt coverage, and even the return teams when they were not holding, looked far more explosive and dangerous than any time in the past three or four seasons.
It would be terrific to see that unit give the team some energy and turn the field over more.
Other than the bust on the long run and the gamble-gone-wrong by Blair, the defense looked far better than expected, especially considering all the starters that sat out.
They kept the Broncos out of the end zone until the fourth quarter, and were in the backfield a lot. This was a promising start.
These games mean little, but winning is always nicer than losing. Seattle lost every preseason game last year. That won’t happen again this season. They now have ten days until their next contest. Expect to see the starters come back and get at least a series or two, or perhaps a full quarter. We will also learn more about the injury to George Fant, which may impact guys like Nick Vannett or Ed Dickson.