Four-way battle for nickel spot as Seahawks search for Coleman replacement

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks

RENTON -- As the Seahawks search for a replacement for Justin Coleman as the team's slot cornerback, the job could ultimately end up being a group effort.

Coleman signed a four-year deal with the Detroit Lions in free agency after serving as Seattle’s slot cornerback for the last two seasons. Coleman played over two-thirds of the team’s defensive snaps in 2018 as the Seahawks played more five and six defensive back packages. The Seahawks currently have four different options vying for the job in training camp. Akeem King and Kalan Reed were a part of the 2019 roster while Jamar Taylor signed with the team in free agency and Ugo Amadi was a fourth-round draft pick in this spring's NFL Draft. All four have taken turns in nickel packages as Seattle searches for their best options for the upcoming season.

“Kalan Reed did a nice job in the game, Ugo Amadi did a nice job in the game too in the plays that he had, and we know that Jamar Taylor and Akeem King can play there,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “So, we’ve got four guys that it’s kind of hard to get their reps right, right now.”

The reality is there may not be just one player selected to handle the job either. Carroll said that there are benefits to the idea of having multiple players ready to handle the assignment depending on the opponent they are facing in a given week.

For instance, King was used situationally last season to match up against some bigger pass targets. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Seahawks turned to King to handle tight end Travis Kelce in passing situations. Using the 6-foot-1, 215-pound King to match up with Kelce and bigger slot receivers like Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals makes a lot of sense. Asking him to cover players such as Tyreek Hill, Taylor Gabriel or DeSean Jackson maybe less so.

“There’s reasons for having multiple guys,” Carroll said. “The different style players that play in the slot, and different things we’re trying to do with the position that have that in their background, so we’re there again.”

King played in all 16 games for Seattle and made one start as a reserve and core special teams player.

Reed, a former Mr. Irrelevant in the NFL Draft, spent time on Seattle's practice squad last year before being promoted to the active roster last in the year. Reed did not appear in a game in his time on the 53-man roster last year but he was the first man off the bench when Seattle needed five defensive backs Thursday night against the Denver Broncos.

“Just sitting out last year I was ready to hit somebody so it was exciting,” Reed said. “Your time is going to come so you’ve just got to ready when your number is called. Game day was fun finally getting a chance to strap it up again and hit someone on another team.”

Reed has been running with the first-team defense at the nickel spot again this week in practice and could get the nod against Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

"Kalan Reed has done a really nice overall job right now, pass coverage-wise," Carroll said. "He’s done all that stuff well enough that he can hold his spot going into the week, but it’s up for grabs, and those guys will be rotating evenly throughout.”

A former second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, Taylor was roommates with former Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson in college at Boise State. Taylor said Johnson always raved about the culture in Seattle and how much he missed it when he moved on later in his career. It made him seek out the Seahawks when he was a free agent this offseason.

"When he left, he hated that he left," Taylor said. "I remember coming in on my workout and you could feel it. Music was playing, Pete came in their hyped up and it was like 'man, this is totally different than what I'm accustomed to. Another thing is the coaches are always on the same page and I think that's great because I've been a part of a lot of organizations that haven't been on the same page."

Taylor was traded by the Cleveland Browns to the Arizona Cardinals last May and appeared in 10 games for the team before being released. The Denver Broncos then signed Taylor in December and he played the rest of the season with the team before signing with Seattle this offseason. As a veteran, it may be more difficult to make the roster further down the depth chart. Taylor has worked both in the slot and outside as Seattle gauges his fit with the team.

“I think it’s harder for the coaches to find reps,” Taylor said. “I think it’s hard for those guys to figure out how they want to do it. For us, it’s friendly competition. I know I’m the oldest of the group so I’m always trying to help those guys figure things out. If I’m here and I’m playing, great. If I’m not, then I know I left it better than I found it and those guys will be ready to roll.”

Taylor came up with an interception against the Broncos when King pressured quarterback Drew Lock into a throwaway that didn't reach the safety of the sidelines.

Amadi flashed often in the preseason opener against the Broncos. He made a tackle on special teams and flashed his speed on several occasions. Amadi has been working the slot and at safety during training camp.

"He’s done a really nice job of learning what we are doing," Carroll said. "He’s playing two spots. He’s playing safety and he’s playing the nickel spot. Anxious for him to compete at both, but he’s handled all of the learning well."

While wide receiver may be the position battle that's drawn the most attention, the nickel competition is just as heated. There may not be enough roster spots for all four players to make the team, which leaves the remaining three preseason games as vital examinations for the four players in their bid to carve out roles with the team.

Notes:

-- Linebacker Shaquem Griffin was back at practice on Tuesday after missing the previous two practices with a bruised knee sustained in Thursday's game against Denver. Running back Bo Scarbrough and tackle Jamarco Jones were new faces sitting out practice on Tuesday.

-- Safety Lano Hill worked through team drills for a second straight day as he eases back into the mix following hip surgery in January.

-- Wide receiver Gary Jennings posted a second straight encouraging day after a slow start to training camp. Jennings missed most of the team's offseason work due to a hamstring strain. He made several plays in practice on Monday leading to praise from quarterback Russell Wilson and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

"I think Gary had a great day today, it was his best day yet," Wilson said Monday. "He really needed it, I think, just to be honest with you. I think just to make some plays, get the ball in his hands and one, show himself that he can be great in this league hopefully and two, I think ultimately just to the team and everything else, the ball hasn’t gone his way much for whatever reasons. He made a lot of great plays today. I don’t know how many catches he had, probably eight or so, but he made some great ones.”

Added Schottenheimer: "He was one of those guys that it kind of took him a while to pick some stuff up for us. Now I think he’s kind of relaxed a little bit, ‘Oh, these plays make a little bit more sense.’ You see the natural speed, and size, and athleticism. Probably one of the best practices any receiver has had all camp, yesterday. It was borderline dominant some of the plays he made, and it wasn’t just one period it was every single period. We were very pleased to see that, and again he had a nice day today as well.”

Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - AUGUST 08: Dave Williams #49 of the Denver Broncos is tackled by Kalan Reed #39 of the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter during their preseason game at CenturyLink Field on August 08, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Curtis Crabtree

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