Sports

After ‘distasteful’ play in Seahawks loss Tedric Thompson’s job could be Marquise Blair’s

“Always Compete” will be on full display this week inside Seahawks headquarters.

Pete Carroll’s team mantra now applies to at least two starting jobs in the wake of Sunday’s home loss to Baltimore. That’s based off what the coach said Monday.

Rookie safety Marquise Blair impressed Carroll against the Ravens with his tackling and a third-down pass breakup in his first NFL start. The second-round draft choice was the strong safety because Bradley McDougald missed his first game after 31 consecutive starts because of back spasms. Those weren’t subsiding as of Monday. Reserve strong safety Lano Hill has an elbow injury. Carroll said Hill again won’t play this week, so he’s out indefinitely.

Blair was Seattle’s second-round draft choice this spring who was known as a hard hitter at the University of Utah; Seahawks general manager John Schneider called Blair “a silent assassin” after he drafted him. Blair fell behind in August because of a back injury and hip pointer that kept him out most of the preseason.

He’s way back in now.

“He was active, physical, covered well,” Carroll said of Blair’s first pro start. “Made a couple things happen that were real positive, and avoided a couple of things on mistakes that he made; guys covered for him pretty well. But I liked his play.

“It was kind of like what we expect. It showed up immediately—like we saw (with Blair’s open-field tackle) on the first kickoff, too.

“He helped himself. He’s going to play some more.”

Does that warrant Blair starting again Sunday when the Seahawks (5-2) play at Atlanta (1-6), even if McDougald is back to play at safety against the Falcons?

“He’s going to play some more. I’ll say it that way, right now,” Carroll said of Blair.

“I’m fired up about him.”

The coach is the opposite of fired up about free safety Tedric Thompson.

It looks, and sounds, like Thompson’s starting job may be the one Blair takes—though, again, that could be dependent on McDougald’s back healing well enough to play. McDougald can and has effectively played both free and strong safety the last three seasons for Seattle, which interchanges free and strong safeties sometimes with each play.

On his morning day-after radio show Monday and again with doubling-down comments in his afternoon press conference, Carroll said it was inexcusable for his defense to give up Baltimore’s 50-yard pass from Lamar Jackson to Miles Boykin, who was well behind Thompson on the game’s opening series Sunday. The play set up a Ravens field goal, the first of two field goals to which Seattle held Baltimore’s offense until the final 2 minutes of the third quarter.

“We made a big mistake early. Gave them a freebie down the field,” Carroll said.

“Just distasteful. I hate it, that we gave them that. There’s no way that should ever happen.

“Other than that, I thought Marquise did a really good job.”

Carroll’s No. 1 rule for his defensive backs is don’t get beat deep, especially when you are already the last man in the back of the defense.

Thompson has allowed it to happen to him repeatedly so far this season.

He was 14 yards from the line of scrimmage and the last, deepest man in Seattle’s zone coverage to begin Sunday’s error from the Baltimore 36-yard line a minute and a half into the game. Boykin was lined up outside right. Jackson faked a stretch-play hand-off to the left and rolled a bit to his right. Boykin took an inside release on cornerback Shaquill Griffin off then line. As Boykin ran a simple, straight route down the yard-line numbers, Griffin released his shorter zone coverage to Thompson, who had the deepest-man coverage on the play.

Boykin just flat ran past Thompson. The safety still had his back to the ball and was blindly flailing his arms at Boykin as the pass arrived.

If Jackson hadn’t thrown the ball short causing Boykin to tumble as he caught it behind Thompson, that would have been an inexcusable Ravens touchdown.

In Carroll’s mind, it was still inexcusable.

Again.

Thompson has been burned multiple times for huge plays by misplaying balls in the air in the first seven games of this season. That includes in the opening win over Cincinnati. Thompson jumped too soon to gift John Ross this 55-yard touchdown and the Bengals the lead in the final seconds of the first half last month.

Thompson had an interception late in the win over the Rams Oct. 3. But the Seahawks benched him for two drives of their next game, at Cleveland Oct. 13. Hill replaced him for one series and Blair for another, while McDougald stayed in the game. Upon Thompson’s return he intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass that Griffin leaped to deflect away from Browns receiver Jarvis Landry. Thompson’s diving interception in the end zone kept Seattle down one score in a game the Seahawks rallied to win.

That play seemed to reestablish Thompson at free safety.

Sunday’s play seems to destabilize him there now heading to Atlanta.

The competition is also on at right guard, Carroll said.

Jamarco Jones, usually a backup tackle, has impressed coaches with his play the last 2 1/2 games for injured D.J. Fluker at guard. Fluker strained his hamstring in the first half of that win over the Rams three games ago. Jones has made his first two NFL starts since.

Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice last year from Ohio State has been so good as the fill-in guard Carroll isn’t saying Fluker is going back there now that he appears healthy enough to play against Atlanta.

“Fluke will be back and ready to go,” Carroll said. “He will be ready to compete this week.”

With Jones for his job.

“He’s done well. That means he’s raised the question: Does he deserve to play? Does he deserve to start?” Carroll said of Jones, the former Ohio State multiyear starter at left tackle the coach cited for his poise, consistency and mastery of the blocking calls against the Rams, Browns and Ravens. “He’s played terrific for us three weeks in a row now. ...

“It’s just been no big deal. He’s handled it. ...

“So it’s a good situation for us. It’s as competitive as it can be. And D.J. is going to come back rarin’ to go, which he is. His attitude is great. He can’t wait to get back out there.

“So we will see what it all means.”

Monday night, Fluker responded online that he isn’t going anywhere.

Jones was one of two fill-in starters on the offensive line that gave up one sack and seven hits on Russell Wilson against the Ravens’ constant blitzing Sunday. The other was George Fant. He played the second consecutive game for Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown.

Brown has a biceps injury which Seahawks doctors want to continue to keep on a conservative track. Carroll said Brown wants to practice Wednesday in hopes of playing Sunday against the Falcons.

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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