RENTON, Wash. -- Whether or not the Seattle Seahawks are good enough at cornerback was their biggest personnel question of the offseason, after they let Shaquill Griffin walk in free agency and hoped to get by with Ahkello Witherspoon as a cheaper replacement.
The first two weeks of the season have raised new, perhaps inevitable questions: how much longer will the Seahawks stick with that duo before they give Sidney Jones IV or one of their other corners a chance? And would Seattle be open to reuniting with former Legion of Boom star Richard Sherman, even after his off-the-field troubles?
It's impossible not to wonder after their uneven performance in Sunday's overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans and this particularly tepid assessment from coach Pete Carroll:
"They're hanging in there," Carroll said Monday. "They're battling."
Let's pause here for a brief lesson in Parsing Pete.
Carroll is not one to publicly rip an individual player -- certainly not in the tone or colorful language that his counterpart from Sunday, Mike Vrabel, used last week while lamenting a personal foul that receiver Julio Jones committed in the Titans' opener. Carroll tends to soften critical comments he makes, and he'll sometimes work in a compliment to further lessen the sting.
So when the best thing he could say about Flowers and Reed is that they're hanging in there and battling, well, that's not much of an endorsement. It's more of an indictment.
Those two got by without serious issue in the opener, a soft landing against an Indianapolis Colts receiver corps that was without T.Y. Hilton. They didn't hold up nearly as well against Jones and A.J. Brown. The Seahawks will face another strong receiving duo in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson when they play the Minnesota Vikings (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox) at US Bank Stadium.
"We mixed a lot of different coverages and a lot of different stuff that they did," Carroll said of the Tennessee game. "They were involved with run support quite a bit too in the game, like the one on the big play we missed. They're battling."
That big play was Derrick Henry's 60-yard touchdown run, which included a missed tackle by Flowers, among other errors. Flowers was on the wrong end of another big play when he let Jones get behind him for a 51-yard catch, though Carroll seemed to imply that he was expecting safety help.
It would have been worse had Brown not dropped a deep ball after beating Flowers with a double move. Or if Ryan Tannehill hadn't overthrown Brown when the receiver got a step on Reed. That was the play on which Reed was flagged for taunting.
Among the 54 defensive backs with at least 10 targets as the nearest defender this season, Flowers ranks 50th in passer rating allowed (144.5) and 41st in completion rate allowed (72.7%), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Reed has been middle-of-the-road by those marks: 24th (79.2) and tied for 28th (61.5%).
Flowers was mostly passable and not as bad as his worst critics suggested during his up-and-down first three seasons. But getting beat deep the way he did Sunday is the cardinal sin in Carroll's defense, one for which the coach does not have much tolerance.
And if Flowers' hold on the job is as tenuous as ever since Carroll picked him as a starter but wouldn't publicly declare it, Carroll could be nearing the end of his rope. Or at least nearing the point where he wants to see what Jones can do, even if it begins as a look-see as opposed to an full-on switch.
Carroll said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show Monday that Jones has had enough time to settle in since he was acquired via trade at the end of August. That move was shortly before Seattle dealt Witherspoon and added another corner in Bless Austin.
Jones and Austin have only played special teams so far, and Austin was inactive in the opener.
"It's a little bit of a challenge for us to get him -- and really Bless, too -- to get those guys enough really good reps to see them on our field with us," Carroll told reporters. "They're accumulating reps and opportunities and stuff as they work and both those guys look good. They look like they can help us.
"We just have to make the call when it's time to give them a chance to play. It's not a position that we've rotated a lot of guys over the years so we have to wait and see how that fits."
Jones made six of his 14 career starts last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, whose defense was coordinated by Carroll disciple Todd Wash. So he already had some familiarity with Seattle's system when he arrived. He also used to study Sherman's Seahawks tape while playing nearby at the University of Washington.
"It looks pretty similar," he said earlier this month of Seattle's defense.
John Reid is the other cornerback on the Seahawks' 53-man roster. They have Gavin Heslop and Mike Jackson on their practice squad. Rookie fourth-round pick Tre Brown and Nigel Warrior will be eligible to come off Injured Reserve next week.
And what about a potential reunion with Sherman?
They had an informal meeting over the offseason -- Sherman is his own agent -- to discuss that possibility. But that was before he was arrested in July following a troubling domestic dispute. He pleaded not guilty to five misdemeanor charges and has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Oct. 1.
"Nothing right now," Carroll told 710 ESPN Seattle on Monday when asked if the two sides are in communication.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told reporters the same day that Tampa Bay had reached out to Sherman to gauge his interest.
Jones appears to be most likely option if Carroll makes a change at cornerback. Unless Flowers and Reed show they can do more than just hang in there, he won't have much of a choice.