Seattle Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks

RENTON, Wash. - Seattle rookie safety Marquise Blair simply doesn't have much to say. Not to the media. Not to his teammates. Not to his coaches. Not to pretty much anybody. It's nothing personal. He's simply a man of few words. 

"That's just me," Blair said with a smile while standing before about 25 media members following the first day of Seattle's rookie minicamp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.

That reality will certainly be a departure from the defensive backs that roamed Seattle's secondary during the recent glory years when the boisterous Legion of Boom operated at full force. But, like that group, Blair certainly enjoys bringing the boom if not also the noise after the fact. He is a true hitter in every sense of the word. He thirsts for contact, so much so that all of his coaches along the way from Wooster High School through Dodge City Community College and at Utah marveled at his ability to deliver blows that helped wreck opposing offenses. 

“The first thing that stands out is his smile,” Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said when asked of what he will remember most about Blair's days at Utah. “The next thing would be how that smile was so deceiving because he will kill you dead on the field.”
 

Now he brings that tenacity to a team that could use a little attitude on the back end after the loss of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas over the past couple of years.

What the Seahawks are getting in Blair is a hungry player that came from humble beginnings and ended up a second-round pick in the NFL. 

"It changed my life," Blair said of being selected. "I'm happy to be here."

How he arrived here was somewhat unconventional. 

--- A career that almost never was

Blair had to be convinced to play football as a 175-pound sophomore in 2012 at Wooster High in Wooster, Ohio, population 27,000. He didn't enjoy his freshman season and saw himself more as a basketball player. First-year Wooster football coach Doug Haas didn't give up on Blair, and with the help of his mother, Tonya Boykins, convinced him to join the team once school began. By that point, Blair had already missed three weeks of practices. Haas wasn't about to allow Blair to see varsity game action right away. Haas made Blair play junior varsity for three weeks to match the three weeks of practices he had missed. 

Because learning the safety position in just a week proved troublesome, Blair played his first junior varsity game at standup defensive end. 

"He had seven sacks and recovered an onside kick," Haas said. "He was just a terror. My J.V. staff came back and said, 'well, that's the last we'll see of him.'"

A couple of weeks later, Blair moved up to varsity and played cornerback where his man-to-man skills shined. Haas recalled a play when the opposing team ran a reverse to the wide side of the field directly at Blair, all alone in open space. 

"He cuts this kid down in the backfield," Haas said. "And I go, 'okay, this guy is pretty special. He's going to be playing on Saturdays.'"

The following season, Blair moved to safety. The defense struggled early on before Blair texted Haas asking to move to linebacker in order to be closer to the action. The team ran a 4-2-5 defense that used a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Blair flourished in that spot and the team's season turned around. Blair, however, still though basketball might be his best sport. But Haas informed him that there wasn't much of a demand for a 6-foot-2, left-handed guard with a weak jump shot. However, fast, physical safeties that loved contact were always in demand. That description certainly fit Blair. 
 

"I've never seen anybody as physical as he is in terms of just the ability to have blatant disregard for your body and just explode into people," Haas said, "and then straighten up your helmet, pop up, get right back and get the play call and move on. That's what so separated him from everybody else."

Blair's toughness could be traced to having grown with five siblings, including four brothers, two that were older. 

"We always played backyard football so I feel that's where that really came from," Blair said. 

The older brothers would rough up Blair from time to time. 

"A little bit. Not no more, though," Blair said with a smile. 

NFL Films also influenced Blair's mindset on the field. 

"When I was little I'd watch highlights," he said. "Hard-hitting highlights."

On most plays, there is going to be some hard-hitting contact so Blair's philosophy is simple. 

"I'd just rather it be you (who gets hit hard) than me," he said. 

Interest in Blair as a potential college football player took shape soon after his junior season when he received his first scholarship offer in early 2014. Rated as a three-star recruit by 247sports.com and Rivals.com, Blair received offers from Minnesota, Purdue, Kent State, Toledo and Syracuse. That summer, he took an unofficial visit to Syracuse, connected with the players and coaches there and committed that June. 

One fatal flaw stood in the way; his grade-point average. 

"Marquises will be the first to tell you that he was young and immature as a freshman and didn't think about the repercussions of not performing well in the classroom," Haas said. 

Blair began to play catch-up in the classroom while continuing to make opponents pay for allowing him to catch them on the field. Blair would go on to be named first-team Division II all-state as a senior and was named the 2014 Ohio Cardinal Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He led the team with 75 tackles and on offense caught 35 passes for 724 yards and 11 touchdowns. In a playoff game, Blair scored four touchdowns on offense and one on defense to lead the team to a 35-7 win. 

According to Haas, Blair finally realized that football would be his "meal ticket" and gave up basketball his senior season in order to focus on his studies and training for college. But could he become eligible to play at an FBS program?

Blair did all that he could, including taking online classes during the summer after graduating in order to become eligible. Syracuse helped with the process. All signs appeared positive until the 11th hour. In late July, the NCAA determined that it would not approve Blair's transcript making him ineligible to play major college football.

 

"There was a culpability there," Haas said. "He learned the error of his ways." 

Scramble mode ensued. Blair and his coaches had little time to find an alternative plan at a junior college where he could play and work on his associate's degree in order to later transfer to a four-year institution. With few options to choose from, Blair selected Dodge City Community College in Dodge City, Kansas.

Blair applied online, received a football scholarship, packed his bags, got a ride to Cleveland an hour away and then took his first plane ride just under 1,000 miles west to attend school in a city he had never visited to play for people had had never met in person. 

--- Dodge City Destroyer

At the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport in Wichita, Kan., to pick up Blair in late summer of 2015 was linebackers coach Michael Starkey, now at Defiance College in Ohio. Blair had gotten everything all squared away late in the process and missed a few days of fall camp before his arrival. So, Starkey brought along a note pad, handed it to Blair in the car at the airport and during the 2 1/2 hour drive to Dodge City held a one-on-one defensive playbook cram session. 

Dodge City, like Wooster High, used essentially a 4-2-5 defense with heavy man defense that Blair took to quite easily. He once again played a hybrid linebacker/safety role and once again flew around with reckless abandon creating havoc. But he did so while playing within the structure of the defense, which required him to play a lot of man-to-man coverage on slot receivers.

"You could just tell the first day of practice that he understood things," Starkey said. "He just understood football. He understood concepts, he understood the schemes and he took coaching very well. He just applied what he saw and what we were trying to do on the field better than anyone I've ever coached."

That combination of football IQ and tenacity made Blair a menace. His Dodge City highlight video is filled with clips of Blair making early recognition of a play, blowing past blockers and delivering a big hit. 

"He's a violent striker," Starkey said. "He can uncoil his hips whether it was destroying a blocker or making a tackle...That's one thing that immediately caught our eyes on his high school film just how violent he was as a 17-year-old high school senior. He was just violent in everything he did."

Blair's impact was instant and continued for two years. As a senior, Blair had 99 tackles, four interceptions, three sacks and forced four fumbles. 

 

"Everybody on our coaching staff and a lot of guys on our team they saw very quickly that he was just different," Starkey said. "He could do a myriad of different things that just made him elite at that level, for sure."

Starkey said that Blair didn't instantly become enamored with Dodge City but the coach told him that after one year there, when he went home for the summer, he would dream about coming back to be with his teammates. 

"When I picked him up for his sophomore year he was like, 'damn coach, I couldn't wait to get back,'" Starkey said. 

Blair did the work in the classroom and made the plays in games that allowed him to stand out. 

"He took coaching very well," Starkey said. "Better than anyone I've ever coached."

And just like at Wooster, Blair created a highlight reel of vicious hits. 

-- Utah hunts for a linebacker, finds a safety

In 2017, Utah had graduated two senior linebackers and needed help at the position. That sent defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley to Dodge City to recruit Blair, who stood out on game video with his speed and tenacity. A three-star recruit yet again, Blair would receive offers from Nebraska, Louisville, Michigan State, Iowa State and others. 

When Scalley met Blair, the coach did a double take. Blair, then about 187 pounds, didn't resemble the player Scalley had seen on video. 

"He looked big (in action)," Scalley said. "Maybe because he just played big. They'd blitz him off the edge and he'd take on pullers. "

Scalley said that Blair's junior college film was one of the most impressive physical displays he'd ever seen. So while Blair was not the guy Utah thought he was, "it didn't change that we loved him," Scalley said.  

Utah recruited Blair to play safety. 

“He could flat out move and was so physical,” Scalley said. “He was worth taking, regardless of position he was going to play.”

The challenge would be to get Blair’s footwork down at the safety position. That directive proved to not be a problem.

“It was very natural for him," Scalley said. "He’s such an athlete.”

Once again, Blair took well to coaching. Different staff. Same results. He bought into the program and Utah bought into him.

Blair needed exactly one play to announce his presence at Utah with a thud. It happened during his debut in the 2017 opener at home against North Dakota. 

 

“We put him in and he's lined up on the wrong side,” Scalley described, "and I'm screaming at him to run to the other side. He runs over and he's got the tight end in coverage."

The tight end blocked down on a run play to the right that involved a 310-pound guard pulling toward Blair.

"I'm thinking to myself, 'oh crap,'" Scalley said.

His concern proved unwarranted. Blair got low and thrust his legs up sending his shoulder pads into the lineman’s right shoulder. 

“He lights this guard up as if the kid were a little league football player,” Scalley said. "Just ruined him..."The entire stadium just goes, "ooh. That was our first taste of Marquise Blair at the University of Utah."

Back in Dodge City, Starkey watched the game with his girlfriend, who reacted excitedly when Blair made that big hit. Starkey, however, didn't blink. 

"I just kind of looked at her like, 'yeah, that's what he does,'" Starkey said. "That's the lion being a lion."

Blair went on to have a great Utah career that ended with him being named second-team all-Pac-12 as a senior. Remember those academic problems that dogged him in high school? Blair was named to the conference's honorable mention all-academic team. 

Scalley said he believes that Blair is only scratching the surface of what he can do at the safety position because he's only played it for two years. But, he continued, that Blair must continue to work on his man-to-man coverage skills at the next level. Scalley doesn't expect that Blair will ever lose focus and not be able to adjust to new challenges. 

“He hates to lose,” Scalley said. “He hates to lose a rep.”

Plus, Blair is all about team accomplishment and wants to be a key part of that success. 

 

“He’s not a me-guy," Scalley said. "He doesn’t even have a Twitter account right now...He’s not the guy that you're going to want to interview after the games. He’s not the guy that's going to give you complete sentences but he is a guy that lights up a room with his smile."

--- Seahawks see a fit

On the second night of the NFL Draft, Seattle general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll zeroed in on Blair despite safety not being a huge need with starters Bradley McDougald and Tedric Thompson returning. They were seduced by Blair's physicality and athleticism. 

"We worked him out at the Combine and we thought this guy could play corner," Schneider said. "He’s just that kind of athlete. Really intense tempo-setter. Tough, tough dude.”

Carroll said he could see Blair, who became the father of a son last summer, playing Nickel right away because he is athletic enough to do so. But the primary objective is to groom him as a strong safety. 

"We really like him attacking the line of scrimmage..." Carroll said. "It’s his toughness that we’re really excited about.”

Blair is joined in Seattle by former Utah teammate, linebacker Cody Barton, selected in the third round.  

Barton said Blair's personalities on and off the field are polar opposite. 

"He doesn’t talk much, but he’s a very mellow, cool guy and then all of a sudden he puts the helmet on and he’s a wild man," Barton said. "He just wants to kill people. But great player, super smart on the field, has great range. Playing with him coming from Utah, I know how he plays and he’s going to do great things here."

Barton said the biggest hit he's ever seen Blair deliver came against Arizona when he smacked the Wildcats quarterback. However, Blair was called for targeting, a frequent occurrence during his career and something he said he needs to work on. 

"I've just got to lower my target," he said. 

Seattle also drafted Oregon safety Ugo Amadi in the fourth round to play free safety opposite Blair in the second unit. The two didn't know much about each other until they met at the NFL Scouting Combine. This weekend, they were roommates. 

And, according to Amadi, Blair actually speaks and has done so quite often.

 

"Yes, he definitely talks to me," Amadi said with a laugh. "We always talk...I don't know if ya'll have something going on, but for me, good vibes over there."

What's clear is that even without much to say, Blair connects with those closest to him off the field. 

"He's a great kid," Scalley said. "He has a great heart. I just loved his personality. You've gotta earn his trust, but once you do that dude will do anything for ya.”

Haas listened to Blair's draft teleconference and the short sentences he delivered and could only laugh. Those who have helped Blair reach this point find his budgeting of words endearing because they know who the person is behind the quiet demeanor. Haas, Starkey and Scalley have helped groom someone that Seattle is hoping will deliver loudly on the field where it matters the most and where he will always speak the loudest. 

"He is a man of very few words," Haas said. "He's very comfortable with silence." 

Unless, of course, Blair is creating the crashing sound of pad-on-pad violence.