Who 'starts' at nickel corner in Week One?

With "only" Byron Maxwell to replace on arguably the elite defense in NFL history, the Seahawks appear to be in fine form on this side of the ball with training camp just two weeks away. One position that does still need to be sorted out, however, is nickel corner. SeahawkFootball.com breaks down the candidates.

A few weeks ago we broke down the contenders and pretenders to replace Max Unger at center at center . That was the position assistant head coach Tom Cable characterized as the most "competitive" spot on offense.

But what about the vaunted Seattle defense?

Every starter but cornerback Byron Maxwell returns to a squad that not only led the NFL in Total Defense but some believe may have been the staunchest in league history. As I noted here, I'm confident that free agent addition Cary Williams will more than hold his own as Maxwell's replacement opposite Richard Sherman.

Further, with defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill (as well as versatile front seven defender Cassius Marsh) returning from injury, the Seahawks' front should be even stouter.

One position that bears watching throughout training camp, however, is at nickel cornerback where Jeremy Lane quietly excelled a year ago but needs time to heal from the horribly fractured arm and torn ACL he suffered in the Super Bowl.

With the advance of spread offenses, nickel corners have really emerged as a 12th starter with the Seahawks (and the other clubs) routinely lining up in this formation on roughly two-thirds of the snaps per game. The position requires great quickness and anticipation against the pass but also incredible toughness. Nickel corners have to keep their head on a swivel playing so close to the big boys at the line, who love to get out and squash the much smaller defenders on running plays.

Lane quietly emerged as one of the better nickel corners in the NFL a year ago. Frankly, had he not suffered the horrific injury after intercepting Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, I strongly believe Seattle would successfully defended its crown. With backup Marcus Burley a notable inactive, the Seahawks were forced to move the much longer Tharold Simon inside to cover Julian Edelman. The 6-3 202 pound Simon remains a solid outside corner but inside, his length is more of a detriment than an asset - something that Brady and Edelman took no time in exploiting.

The Seahawks showed how important they thought upgrading at nickel was in the offseason by targeting former teammate Will Blackmon (pictured above)as their first free agent addition. He - not Burley - is the favorite to supplant Lane in early season matchups against ultra-quick slot receivers like St. Louis' Tavon Austin in Week One and Green Bay's Randall Cobb a week later.

The 6-0, 204 pound Blackmon is a nine-year veteran with the quick feet, balance and competitiveness necessary for the position. His experience as a kick and punt returner is a testament to Blackmon's overall athleticism and ability to make opposing quarterbacks pay when targeting him.

The Seahawks traded a 6th round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Burley a year ago after the second-year pro from Delaware stood out during training camp. The 5-11, 185 pounder possesses terrific speed (clocked at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his March 14, 2013 Pro Day) and agility and flashed some of his own big play ability last year for the Seahawks with an interception of Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers in Week Eight.

Burley's athleticism is intriguing but he will need to perform better in his second season to overtake Blackmon. Complicating matters is Lane's recovery. He's likely to start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list but could be activated should his recovery go as quickly as Pete Carroll has optimistically suggested throughout the offseason.

Further, the length and versatility of DeShawn Shead and splashy play of undrafted rookies Keenan Lambert and Triston Wade (among others) in minicamps could make the secondary the position to watch during training camp - and not just because of the newcomer Williams or Pro Bowlers Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

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