RENTON — In his fourth year with the Seahawks, defensive back Marquise Blair remains a man of few words.
A recent nine-question interview lasted one minute and 50 seconds. But media who cover the team learned long ago that’s just how Blair is — direct and to the point, no malice intended.
He remains an enigma, through no fault of his own, with circumstance and injuries meaning he has yet to fulfill the lofty expectations that greeted his selection with the No. 47 overall pick in 2019, the highest the Seahawks have used on any defensive back in the Pete Carrol/John Schneider era other than Earl Thomas (who was the 14th pick in 2010).
Blair elicited much excitement with his play in training camp as a rookie in 2019 after being drafted in the second round out of Utah, exhibiting an aggressiveness and knack for playmaking at safety that made him appear a suitable heir apparent in the back end of the defense for Kam Chancellor and Thomas.
But after a learning-curve rookie year and with the Seahawks trading for Jamal Adams (after trading for Quandre Diggs midway through the 2019 season), Blair was switched to nickel back.
After generating almost as much excitement in camp in 2020 with his play in winning that spot, injuries hit.
First came an ACL tear in the second game of 2020, ending his season. After making a quick recovery he earned a share of the starting nickel job in 2021 with fellow 2019 draftee Ugo Amadi when again, injuries hit. This time, it was a patella injury in the same right knee suffered in the sixth game against the Saints that ended his season.
“No,’’ Blair said when asked if he wondered “why me?’’ following the injury against the Saints. “It is what it is.’’
Blair certainly has become far too familiar with the realities of football. He also suffered an ACL injury in his left knee while at Utah in 2017.
But as another training camp opened this week, Blair was finally back on the field, having been given a clean bill of health (though put on something of a snap count early on).
Despite having had three serious knee injuries in the last five years, Blair said he never questioned he’d make it back.
“No,’’ he said. “I had no doubt.’’
Of what it felt like being back on the field this week, Blair was similarly quick and to the point.
“It felt great,’’ he said. “Great getting back with the fellas.’’
Others around the team were more effusive in what it has meant to see Blair overcome two devastating injuries.
“Marquise is a great friend of mine,’’ said linebacker Cody Barton, who played with Blair at Utah. “And it makes me sick the injuries he’s gotten, the things he’s had to go through. But if you look at him and his attitude and how he has approached things and how he has handled it, it just shows how strong he is mentally, shows what kind of heart he’s got.
“I think he’s learned a lot. And when the game is taken from you, it makes you appreciate it that much more, love it that much more and you can just see it in his eyes. And now he’s back and ready to roll and he’s going to have a great year.’’
Diggs spoke in similarly glowing terms of how Blair has responded to his injuries.
“I just think the world of him,’’ Diggs said. “I think he can be a super special player. He had some unfortunate injuries. And at the end of the day, he’s fully healthy, he feels good and his mind is in a good place, and I just pray he stays healthy and he can go make the impact that we all know he can.’’
Where on the field can Blair make that impact?
The Seahawks brought back Justin Coleman, their starting nickel in 2017 and 2018, in March, and he has been working with the starting defense at that spot. Amadi is also back, and the three-man competition for that job is as intriguing as any position battle on the team.
Asked this week if Blair has some catching up to do with Coleman and Amadi Carroll said “sure he does. He’s missed a lot of play time. He does have some time to make up. But he’s worked really hard in the offseason and he’s ready to go. He’ll make it, he’ll be ready to go.”
Some around the team say it won’t be a surprise if Blair were to again win the nickel job.
But with the safety spots filled by Diggs and Adams — whose broken finger suffered this week isn’t considered overly serious — there doesn’t appear to be much chance to play at that position (though with Diggs, who was getting a rest day, and Adams out on Saturday, Blair did line up some safety).
As Carroll noted, the Seahawks were also using Blair in some specialty packages last season before he was injured, and the change in defensive schemes and coaches could mean the team will look for even more creative ways to get him on the field.
“Shoot, it’s wide open,’’ Carroll said of where Blair fits in the defense. “I’m really excited about him because all of what he has shown in the past — the playmaking, the toughness, the physicality, the versatility that he brings, so he’s ready to jump.’’
Blair said he doesn’t care how he’s used as long as he’s used somewhere.
“I have no idea,’’ Blair said. “Wherever they want to put me, I’ll compete at it.’’
What’s not in question is that this a big year for Blair to establish himself somewhere as he enters the final season of his rookie contract.
But Blair is also just 25, and the memory of some of the plays he’s made when healthy lingers.
“I have no ceiling on expectations for Marquise, everything is available to him,’’ Carroll said. ‘’He can cover, he can run and hit, and he’s a bright player, too, so we will see.’’
But asked if he feels any pressure that this could be a make-or-break year, Blair again gets quickly to the point.
“Nah,’’ he said. “I’m just here to worry about staying healthy and getting on the field.’’
And for now, that may be all that matters.
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