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After Dreadful Performances the Past Few Years, Will Seattle’s Rushing Attack Finally Take Flight?

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It was only four seasons ago when the Seahawks’ ground game reeked havoc on the NFL. That was the year that the league took notice of the team that called the Pacific Northwest home.

Big number 37 led the attack.

Shaun Alexander routinely tore up opposing defenses. En route to setting the single season record for rushing touchdowns with 27 scores, the Alabama product totaled 1880 yards on the ground on 370 carries.

It was only four years ago that the team went 13-3 and made their only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, but, for Seahawks fans, four years feels like decades.

Since the 2005 season, running backs in Seattle have struggled to take flight.

Alexander grew old and his numbers took a freefall.

Maurice Morris, a local product out of Oregon, proved why he never got the bulk of the team’s carries.

Then came Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett.

Both came into town with the team and its fans thinking of a “Thunder and Lightning” and an overall increase in production from previous years.

Oh how everybody was fooled.

Jones started off pretty strong, but lost favor with then-coach Mike Holmgren. This gave way to Maurice Morris…who didn’t do much, or any, better.

T.J. Duckett was limited to short yardage and goal line duties. Duckett did well in the role, but it wasn’t what Seahawks fans expected of the big bruising back.

The 2009 NFL Draft rolled around and, to the agony of some, Seattle did not select a top back to resurrect the nearly dead running game.

Not that this little trip down memory lane was needed for Seahawks fans, as all of it is far too easily remembered, let’s now take a look at what fans can expect this season from the team and its rushers.

NEW COACH. NEW SCHEME.

Mike Holmgren is no longer roaming the sidelines in Seattle. In his place is Jim Mora Jr. Coming in under Mora to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator, is Greg Knapp.

Knapp and Mora are familiar with each other, as Knapp was Mora’s offensive coordinator during 2004-2006 when Mora was the Falcons’ head coach.

During that time, the Falcons were a top-five rushing attack. Two out of the three years, the Atlanta ground game led the league in attempts and the team led the league in rushing yards all three years that they had Knapp calling the shots.

Most recently, Knapp was the offensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. Despite being one of the laughing stocks of the league last year, Knapp’s offense produced a tenth place finish in the league in both rushing attempts and total rushing yards.

Knapp’s philosophy? Zone blocking and one cut and go.

JULIUS JONES (2008: 158 car, 698 yds, 4.4 yds/car, 2 TDs – 14 rec, 66 yds, 0 TDs)

You either were for Jones or against him prior to the start of last season. By the end of the season though, those against far outnumbered those that backed number 22.

What those that were and still are against him fail to realize, is that Jones had a fairly decent season in 2008.

He was two yards short of 700 yards and averaged well over four yards per carry. While he did fumble four times, only two of them were lost to opposing defenses.

Factor those stats into the situation he was in and you begin liking what he did that much more.

Seattle’s offensive line was plagued by injuries. All of the starters on the line missed multiple games last season.

This had a trickledown effect.

With a patchwork offensive line, starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck became a tackling dummy in the pocket and looked more like the 2002 David Carr instead of Seattle’s pro bowl gun slinger. Hasselbeck was only able to play in seven games last year due to injuries. In his stead, Seattle had to rely on both Seneca Wallace and Charlie Frye. Yes, Charlie Frye.

Seattle’s wide receivers were absolutely abysmal last season, due in large part to injuries.

To fill holes at the position, the Seahawks signed practice squad players, signed free agents off the street and even shipped a fifth round draft pick to Denver for Keary Colbert…only to have Colbert cut by Seattle later on in the season.

All in all, nine receivers recorded statistics last season in a Seattle Seahawks uniform.

Without your star quarterback and your usual cast of wide receivers, what is there for defenses to be afraid of? You’re just asking defensive coordinators to stack the box and eliminate the only position that hasn’t been decimated by injuries.

After all of that, now take a second look at what Jones did last year and imagine what he can do this year.

Jones is a one cut and go runner and, in a recent Seattle Times article, said that he’s very excited for the changes that this season brings to him.

Also in that article, Jim Mora Jr. said that Jones is looking really good.

I truly think Jones is going to have a breakout type season for the Seahawks. He’ll have more carries now that Maurice Morris is in Detroit, Knapp’s coaching scheme fits Jones’ abilities and because he seems to have so far won the coaching staff over.

I don’t think Jones will have a lot of touchdowns, those will go to TJ Duckett, but I don’t see why he can’t have a thousand yard season. Now, before you call me a homer and say that I’m drinking some Jones Kool-Aid, do the math. All he has to do for a 1000 yard season is average 62.5 yards per game this season.

Are you really going to tell me that he can’t hit 62.5 yards a game?

T.J. DUCKETT (2008: 62 car, 172 yds, 2.8 yds/car, 8 TDs – 0 rec, 0 yds, 0 TDs)

Duckett was used as a short yardage and goal line back and he did really well even though he endured the same on-the-field hardships that Jones faced.

This year, Duckett’s role with the team could be different…to an extent. I still see him getting the bulk of the short yardage and goal line touches, but I see him getting more carries in general as well. The reason behind that is that both Mora Jr. and Knapp know what they have in the Michigan State product. Duckett had one of his most productive seasons of his career while playing under the two coaches in Atlanta.

Factor in the fact that, like I said in regards to Julius Jones possible 2009 production, Maurice Morris’ touches have to go somewhere, and I see the 28-year-old 6-foot 254 pound wrecking ball getting into the end zone around 10 times while picking up anywhere from 350 to 500 yards on the ground, with the latter yardage total being a very tangible outcome.

THE REST OF RUNNING BACK PACK

Justin Forsett and Devin Moore will fight it out for a special teams and third string running back spot.

Forsett was a fan favorite last preseason. He saw time during the regular season returning kicks both for Seattle and Indianapolis.

On 23 punt returns, the diminutive, but speedy Forsett averaged 9.9 yards per return, with a long of 29 yards. In kickoff returns, Forsett averaged 24.9 yards per return on seven opportunities. His longest kickoff return was 32 yards.

At 5-foot-9, Devin Moore is an inch taller than Forsett. The first-team All-Mountain West back has 4.3 40 yard dash speed, has good hands and route running ability, can run the ball well in between the tackles, in addition to being able to bounce outside with ease and having good vision.

The two are nearly identical in weight. The more that I learn about Moore, the more I think of a Darren Sproles-type running back that can change the pace of a game running the ball, but can also be a very valuable asset in the return game.

Pack your bags Forsett; Moore has your roster spot in Seattle this year and could have it for several years to come.

THE FULLBACKS

Leonard Weaver is gone, leaving Owen Schmitt as the only returning fullback on the roster to earn a statistic during the 2008 regular season.

Over the offseason, Seattle signed veteran fullback Justin Griffith. Griffith has experience with Mora Jr. and Knapp’s offense. Griffith played in Atlanta when the two coached the Falcons and last year Griffith was the fullback of the Raider offense that Knapp made respectable.

I see both making the final roster, but I’d give Schmitt the edge in terms of having the most impact this season. He’s younger than Griffith and has remarkable athletic ability. He’s a relentless blocker; he can run and catch the football. He even has some homerun threat abilities. Why wouldn’t you want Schmitt leading blocks and making plays? Honestly, I’d rather have him on the roster and not have Duckett at all because I see Schmitt being able to do what Duckett can…and then some.

Schmitt is a rare breed and I truly hope he is a lifelong Seahawk. The kind of player that fans will always love, much like a former lifelong Seahawk that played fullback.

So, to end, I’ll answer one question that is on the minds of many skeptical Seahawks fans…

DO THE SEAHAWKS NEED TO DRAFT A RUNNING BACK IN 2009?

It really all depends on how Jones does this year under a scheme that is better suited for his abilities. Turning 28 this year, Jones still has plenty of yardage left in his legs to be a productive feature back in Seattle for a couple of years. As I said earlier, I really think Jones can have a breakout year this season; however, if Jones falters, look for Seattle to spend a high draft pick to shore up the position.


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