RENTON — When safety Marquise Blair was drafted in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks, he brought with him to the NFL the reputation as a big hitter.
That’s what happens when you’re ejected twice from college games for targeting.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the most notable moments from Seattle’s preseason opener centered on Blair and riding that fine line between what’s a legal hit and what will draw a flag in the NFL.
“I’ve been working on it since I left Utah, I’ve been working on moving my shoulder,” Blair said. “I’m going full speed out there, it’s whatever they see.”
In drafting Blair, the Seahawks are hoping they’ve found the next version of Kam Chancellor — a big safety with the strength and size to be a force against the run but the skills to also defend the pass. And it didn’t take long into his first NFL preseason game to see the thumping he could add to the secondary.
It was the fourth quarter and Denver’s Drew Lock attempted to hit Nick Williams downfield. Blair came across and rocked Williams as the ball arrived, soon followed by a flag. It was a hit that drew oohs, but also a review to see if Blair was subject to ejection.
Blair appeared to avoid making helmet contact but his mistake was making the hit with his right shoulder, instead of his left. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the teaching point in that instance was for Blair to have tried making the hit with his left shoulder so his head was further away from the contact with the receiver.
“The cool thing was that he was there. He made a great break on the football, his timing was excellent, his toughness was demonstrated. Now there is a little technique issue to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Carroll said.
Not surprisingly, doing drills to replicate that play was one all of the Seahawks’ defensive backs were doing on Sunday.
“That flag is all about inches,” Seattle safety Bradley McDougald said. “If he goes two inches lower then it’s a clean, legal play. We can’t let that flag or the referees diminish how we play the game. We just have to practice, drill those things at practice, getting the right strike range, the right target area and stay there and rep it enough that it becomes second nature.”
Blair was “scrambling” as Carroll described it in the preseason opener. He was flagged for the hit on Williams and made the incorrect read on a pass play going after the quarterback when he should have stayed on the receiver releasing off the line. He also made a perfect, legal hit along the sideline later in the fourth quarter and added a tackle for loss.
He played 36 defensive snaps, the most of any player in Seattle’s secondary.
“Some plays I was getting lined up wrong, my technique sometimes. I’m just working on it and getting better,” Blair said.
• Carroll said T/TE George Fant has a second-degree ankle sprain and will be aiming to try and get back for the season opener. Fant was injured when he was rolled up from behind on Thursday and was in a walking boot at practice Sunday. Fant has regularly been used as an extra tight end.
• QB Geno Smith underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his knee and was a spectator at practice on Sunday. Carroll said Smith is hopeful he’ll be ready to play next Sunday against Minnesota, but said it could be a stretch to expect that. Smith’s uncertainty was why Seattle signed J.T. Barrett to add another arm for training camp.