When the Seahawks parted ways with a plethora of Pro Bowlers and future Ring of Honor members over the past two seasons, the organization knew it would only pay off if the team restocked the roster by drafting well.
While it's hard to judge a draft class after one full season, much less one preseason game, Thursday night's showing in a 22-14 win over Denver gave a glimpse into what Seattle has with its latest group of rookies. Among those who stood out, two former Utah Utes made an immediate impact defensively.
Playing in his first NFL game, second-round safety Marquise Blair lived up to his hard hitting ways dating back to his time at Utah. Late in regulation, he laid the boom on Broncos receiver Nick Williams, and though it resulted in a penalty, Blair sent a clear message about his intentions in Seattle's secondary and will make receivers think twice before running routes in his vicinity.
Coach Pete Carroll commented on Blair's aggressiveness, saying "He’s a ballplayer. He’s a hitter, he’s aggressive and tough, we can work with that."
Blair's aggressiveness came back to bite him a few times, as he drew a 15-yard penalty for his hit on Williams and also paid for crashing hard off the edge on a play fake by quarterback Drew Lock late in the first half. The result? Williams came wide open running a crossing route and picked up 24 yards to put the Broncos in to the red zone.
Certainly, these are things that can be cleaned up as Blair gains more experience. It's worth remembering he missed a large portion of offseason activities and the start of training camp dealing with a hamstring injury, so it's understandable why he may have made a few assignment-related miscues.
Third round linebacker Cody Barton, who played all three linebacker spots at Utah, made several nice plays in limited action in his debut as well. He knifed through a pile of bodies for a nice tackle for loss and racked up a team-high five tackles in the first half, with his lone blemish being blocked by the fullback on a 50-yard run by Royce Freeman on the opening drive of the game. Learning behind Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, Barton adds to the impressive amount of depth Seattle has at linebacker.
Carroll lamented that they could not get Barton in on more plays because he was on a "pitch count" following limited practice time this week. Assuming he made it out of Thursday's game in good shape, Carroll said he's "been nothing but special for us so far" and indicated the next several practices would be key for him as the team hopes to give him more snaps against the Vikings in the second preseason game.
Both Blair and Barton showed youth and inexperience at times as expected, but overall, they validated their coaches' beliefs after they were selected in the draft. They both were an intricate part of a Utah Utes defense that was 20th in the nation in total defense, as Blair totaled 59 tackles with two interceptions last year and Barton amassed 117 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, and one interception.
Certainly, the Seahawks hope both players can translate that production to the NFL, even if it may take a year or two before they are full-time starters.