For all the positives from Seattle’s 35-30 victory over New England Sunday night, the team got the worst injury news imaginable Monday, learning that both starting nickel corner Marquise Blair and rush end/linebacker Bruce Irvin will be out for the season with knee injuries.
Each suffered ACL tears and will undergo surgery, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll confirmed when he talked to media members via Zoom on Monday afternoon.
“We’re going to miss those guys,’’ Carroll said. “Feel terrible for them.’’
Blair, the 47th overall choice in the draft last year out of Utah, was one of the bright spots of camp, winning the nickel cornerback job.
“Marquise was just breaking in for the first time and getting it and really making a big splash,’’ Carroll said.
Irvin, 32, was returning to the team that drafted him in the first round in 2012 after four years away. He stated several times how he felt like he had come back to his real football home. Irvin is on a one-year deal worth up to $5.9 million, meaning his future beyond this season is unclear.
“It was really great to have him back,’’ Carroll said.
Each is a critical loss, but Irvin’s looms as especially ominous because the team hoped he could be a big factor this year in improving a pass rush that remains one of Seattle’s biggest questions.
The reality of the NFL, though, is that the Seahawks don’t have long to mourn their loss and instead have to quickly prepare for a visit from Dallas on Sunday.
The replacement for Blair is obvious — second-year player Ugo Amadi.
Amadi stepped in for Blair after he went down early in the second quarter making a tackle on Sony Michel. Amadi finished with eight tackles, one for a loss, in 47 snaps.
“He did a nice job,’’ Carroll said of Amadi. “He really was active.’’
Amadi was the nickel for the first game of the 2019 season against Cincinnati but otherwise played mostly in a reserve role last year and on special teams.
Carroll said the year of experience makes the Oregon grad more prepared to step into a significant role now.
“He’s way ahead of where he was last year when he was just barely getting going,’’ Carroll said. “We won’t have any restrictions on what we can do. … We need him to step up and be a factor. He’s filling some big shoes.’’
Carroll, though, noted the 5-foot-9, 201-pound Amadi might do things a little differently than the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Blair.
“He’s going to play a little bit different, a different style to him,’’ Carroll said of Amadi.
But Seattle hopes he can be as effective. Blair’s emergence this year allowed Seattle to go back to playing a more normal amount of nickel defense after the Seahawks last year kept all three linebackers on the field almost 70% of the time, in part because none of the players they tried at the nickel corner could really hold on to the spot.
Seattle will also likely want to add a defensive back for depth purposes. One possibility is elevating Linden Stephens off the practice squad — Carroll noted signing practice squad players Monday as one way to fill the voids. Stephens made Seattle’s initial 53-man roster before being waived and re-signed to the practice squad, and has experience playing the nickel. Ryan Neal, who played in two games at corner for Seattle last year, also is on the practice squad.
Seattle will use more of a committee approach to replace Irvin, in part because he had dual roles.
Irvin was the starter at strongside linebacker in the base defense and then used as a rush end in the nickel.
Irvin had played 111 snaps in the first two games, or 80% of the defensive snaps, despite missing the final series against the Patriots (he was hurt on the second play of the second-to-last series with 4:04 left), making five tackles with three quarterback hits.
Rookie defensive end Alton Robinson, a fifth-round choice out of Syracuse who was inactive for the first two games, will try to help fill the void.
“I can’t see how he can’t be part of this game plan because he’s up to take Bruce’s place,’’ Carroll said.
That means to expect Robinson to play at the rush end spot, where Benson Mayowa is the starter, though so far he’s had to play 136 snaps, or 90%, which almost certainly isn’t sustainable for the entire season.
As for the strongside linebacker spot in the base defense, one candidate is first-round pick Jordyn Brooks, who got a few plays in that role on the final series Sunday, getting eight snaps overall for the game.
The Seahawks also could use veteran K.J. Wright, the starter at weakside linebacker, at the strongside spot and Brooks at WLB, where he is the listed backup. Cody Barton is listed as the backup at strongside linebacker, and he could be a factor, too.
But the loss of Irvin almost certainly portends a bigger role for Brooks.
“We’re trying to bring him along slowly, maybe now we have to give him a little bit more work,’’ Carroll said of Brooks, who was the 27th overall choice out of Texas Tech. Brooks has played 15 snaps so far, with one tackle in the opener at Atlanta.
“But he’s ready to do that and excited about that. … There’s no reservations other than it’s new.’’
Seattle could also promote Shaquem Griffin from the practice squad to fill out the depth at linebacker. Griffin was waived in the cutdown to 53 players and re-signed to the practice squad, having worked as a backup at strongside linebacker throughout camp.
Seattle also will scout the list of available free agents.
If the Seahawks are looking for a veteran to help out at solely strongside linebacker, they could consider bringing back Mychal Kendricks, who played that spot much of the past two seasons but suffered an ACL injury in the 2019 regular-season finale against the 49ers. It was reported in August that Kendricks was healthy and was close to signing a deal with the Raiders before things fell through.
The Seahawks might be more likely to look at players regarded more as edge rushers, with two notable veterans remaining available: Clay Matthews and Jabal Sheard.
Matthews, 34, played for Carroll at USC and remains unsigned after playing last season with the Rams, when he had eight sacks. He played from 2009-2018 with Green Bay.
Matthews was reported to be negotiating with Denver two weeks ago before talks fell through.
Sheard, 31, had 4½ sacks in 13 games last season for the Colts.
And maybe a possibility is Cameron Wake, who recently was reported to have turned down an offer from Denver. Wake is 38 but has made it to five Pro Bowls in his career and had 2½ sacks last year in nine games with Tennessee.
“We never restrict ourselves in that regard,’’ Carroll said of bringing in a player from the outside. “We’re always looking.’’
The next few days will certainly be interesting as the Seahawks figure it all out.