End Of Season Position Analysis, Part Four: Running Backs

by: William P. Tomisser

Seattle decided to try a running back by committee approach to the 2008 season by design. They seemed to feel that Maurice Morris wasn’t going to be able to hold up over an entire season, so they acquired another similar back in Julius Jones from Dallas. Furthermore, they knew that neither Morris or Jones was a bruiser type to push for a hard yard on third and 1, so they brought in T. J. Duckett from Ruskell’s and Mora’s past in Atlanta to be a short yardage specialist.

For the entire Season, Morris, Jones, and Duckett was Seattle’s running back. Let’s call him Mojonett.

Here’s what the Seattle running back situation looked like at season’s end:

Halfbacks

  • Maurice Morris
  • Julius Jones
  • T. J. Duckett
  • Justin Forsett

Fullbacks

  • Leonard Weaver
  • Owen Schmitt

All our backs were on the active roster at the end of the year. We have no backs on the practice squad or injured reserve.

For the record, Mojonett ran 352 times for 1444 yards for a 4.1 yards per carry average, scoring 10 touchdowns. If Shaun Alexander had run for those numbers in 2006 and 2007, most likely he would still be on the team. Even though those are decent numbers for a halfback, somehow it didn’t seem as if Mojonett was a very dominating back. None of Mojonett’s three components seemed able to take over a game and force the opposing defense to deal with our running game which in turn should have opened our passing game up more.

Of course, some of that was probably due to our receivers situation but I’ve heard some dissatisfaction expressed with Seattle’s overall running game and quite a few fans still consider it to be a part of the team that needs work. Our offensive line shares a part of the blame also, having had a generally poor season again.

There has been quite a controversy between Morris and Jones as to who was the better back over the season. Jones carried for more yards (698), had a better yards per carry average (4.4), and scored 2 touchdowns, while Morris was fairly close with 574 yards on 132 carries for a 4.3 yards per carry average, but didn’t score any touchdowns. Duckett ran 62 times for a 172 yards and only a 2.8 yards per carry; however, he scored most of the rushing touchdowns with 8.

The perception that I’ve noticed from the Seahawk Addicts comments seems to be that Morris was a harder runner and the team moved better when he was in there. The stats don’t bear that out, though. Seattle had its moments when the running game seemed to be working pretty well, and if our receiving game had been up to snuff we might have won a few more games. Visually, it didn’t look very dominant as we all watched the games unfold over the course of the season.

Justin Forsett had an electrifying pre-season and had many people comparing his running style to the great Barry Sanders. Of a similar size to Sanders, Forsett can make quick slashing cuts and, even though he weighs just short of 200 lbs, he has a propensity to want to run over people. Not afraid of contact, in fact seeming to relish it, he blocks very well for a man his size. He also showed himself to be a dangerous return man.

Forsett was caught in a squeeze for slots at the final cut down and was waived, which was a very unpopular move with most Seahawk fans. The Seahawks were trying to sneak him past the other teams in the league and onto their practice squad, but he was picked up off waivers by Indy and signed to their 53 man roster as a returner. Seattle fans thought they had seen the last of him. However, Indy later waived him and were apparently trying to slip him past the rest of the league like Seattle did and onto their practice squad when we returned the favor and signed him to our 53 man roster as our punt returner. That was one of the sweeter moments of the season for those who wanted to see more of Forsett in a Seahawk uniform. Turnabout is fair play.

Morris is a free agent this offseason and most people don’t expect him to be resigned. If that happens and the Seahawks don’t go after someone in either the draft or free agency, the Seahawks will be looking at using Jones as their primary running back with Forsett as the change of pace back. Whether that combination can produce as good a season as Mojonett had remains to be seen if it comes about. Duckett will likely be retaining his spot as the short yardage specialist, given his Ruskell and Mora connection.

Leonard Weaver is also a free agent. The undrafted free agent fullback has worked at his craft and honed his blocking skills to the point that he was chosen as an alternate to the pro bowl this year. Also a good power runner and accomplished receiver out of the backfield, Seattle hasn’t had his combination of blocking and running ability from the fullback position since John L. Williams graced the Seattle roster. Mack Strong was probably a better pure blocker, but Weaver is a better runner and receiver and is also a good open field runner, making good yardage after the catch.

The hope is that with the fullback position losing favor with a lot of the teams in the NFL these days, Weaver won’t find anyone who covets his services more than the Seahawks do and we’ll be able to retain him in free agency. He is also a good alternative as a short yardage back should Duckett become unavailable. He sported a 4.3 yard per carry average this season, comparing favorably to the halfbacks. Weaver ran for 130 yards this season and caught passes for 222 more for 352 multi-purpose yards. Weaver was by far the most productive back in receiving yardage.

Owen Schmitt became a fan favorite mostly based on his persona from college and the toughness he promised to bring to the table. Owen didn’t get much of an opportunity to make an impact with Weaver’s stellar performance giving him most of the work, but he did make a couple of downfield catches and ran over a would-be blocker in one instance that promised more to come. If we resign Weaver, the fullback position looks to be in good hands for the next decade or so.

In conclusion, I think that most Seahawks fans still have some trepidation over the state of the Seahawks’ running game. Whether it’s because of the unsettled state of our offensive line, the problem that we don’t have what is viewed as a good candidate to be our featured back, or just the situation where it seems as if neither of the two main halfbacks ever got an opportunity to get their game going before the other one replaced them, it is a fact that I’ve not seen too many positive comments on our running game prospects for next season without some changes being made.

I think the Mojonett halfback is a thing of the past and I hope that next year we can concentrate on a single candidate to be our featured back, using a second back to change the pace and give the main guy a rest. Having a short yardage specialist doesn’t give me too much heartburn, although it does take up a valuable roster spot given that we have a couple of fire breathing dragons as fullbacks who could probably handle the short yardage situation just fine with one blocking for the other.

Here’s some questions for debate on the subject of running backs: Do you Addicts think the running back by committee approach was successful? Should we give Mojonett another shot at it either with the same components or a new combination? Should we try and resign Morris? Who should we settle on as our featured back if we aren’t going to try to upgrade our halfback situation? Lastly, in view of all the other positions that need upgrading, should we look for an upgrade at running back in the draft or free agency?

Chris Wells from Ohio State and Knowshon Moreno from Georgia are the top two halfbacks in the draft, both of whom are considered to be top 15 picks. LeSean McCoy from Pittsburgh and C.J. Spiller from Clemson are the next tier and both are considered to be first round picks. There are no other halfbacks considered to be worthy of being picked before the fifth round.

Go for it, Addicts!

Hasta,

BillT

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