During the early stages of training camp, the Seattle Seahawks have held a wide open competition at the safety positions, mixing and matching multiple players at both spots seeking to uncover the best combination.
Even without long-time secondary mainstays Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, coach Pete Carroll has rhapsodized about an exciting core of young defenders battling to take their places in the starting lineup.
As one of the players hoping to take advantage of Thomas' ongoing holdout and Chancellor's decision to walk away from football, fifth-year safety Maurice Alexander has caught Carroll's attention as he continues working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.
“Just getting started with him. Just getting started with him and I can’t wait to see the film today." Carroll told reporters following Tuesday's practice. "Yesterday was pretty limited, today’s limited, after today when we come back, he’ll be full-go on everything so I’m really excited to see how he fits in."
Alexander, 27, hasn't been a full participant thus far in training camp, but he has earned valuable reps playing with Seattle's first defense during team sessions. Unlike some of his competitors such as second-year players Delano Hill and Tedric Thompson, he has NFL starting experience at both free and strong safety from his previous four-year tenure with the Rams.
In 41 games with the Rams, including 23 starts, Alexander recorded 108 combined tackles, two interceptions, and five passes defensed. After starting the team's first four games at strong safety last season, he lost his job and Los Angeles opted to release him.
Despite his prior starting experience, he didn't latch on with another team until the Seahawks signed him in March.
Now fully healthy and gearing up for full participation at practice, Carroll and the Seahawks finally get to see where the "exciting" Alexander fits in the big picture as the team searches for long-term stability at both safety spots.
"I see him as a little bit different type of player than some of the guys that we have so I’m anxious to see what that means. I’m not quite sure at this point, but from what we’ve seen in the past, he’ll be a very physical guy who loves to hit you. I’m hoping that really jumps out.”
Based on Carroll's commentary, the 6-foot-2, 220 pound Alexander would seem to be an ideal fit trying to replace Chancellor at strong safety. Interestingly enough, he enjoyed the most successful season of his NFL career playing free safety for the Rams in 2016, making 50 tackles and picking off two passes in 14 starts.
Assuming Thomas eventually reports with or without a new contract in coming weeks, Seattle will move veteran Bradley McDougald back to strong safety, the position he's openly said on numerous occasions he's most comfortable. Preferring to play near the line of scrimmage where all the action takes place, he performed well in that capacity when he took over for Chancellor last season.
Under this premise, players like Alexander would ultimately be competing for backup roles and special teams snaps.
But what if Thomas continues his holdout into the season? Or the Seahawks find a trade partner and decide to move him?
Moving on from their star player isn't ideal and Seattle would likely have to make schematic adjustments such as using more two-deep safety coverages, but the organization is far more prepared for life without him than it was a few years ago.
Since Thomas has been absent from team activities all offseason, Carroll and his staff have gotten extended looks at McDougald, Thompson, and Hill for months. And with Alexander now on the mend, another quality football player will be able to throw his helmet into the ring as the ultimate wild card in this entire competition.
Coming from a familiar NFC West foe and armed with more starting experience than any safety on the roster besides McDougald, Alexander offers the type of flexibility Seattle may need to offset a potential Thomas departure in a post-Legion of Boom world. As Carroll has pointed out time and time again this offseason, it'll simply come down to seeing where his skill set and style fits into the puzzle.