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SI's 2008 NFL Scouting Reports
Seattle Seahawks
Projected Finish: 1st in NFC West
 
Jones shared the load in Big D and will do the same in Seattle
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
2008 Schedule
 
 
SPOTLIGHT
 

A ground game that ran out of gas last year is overhauled from the top down. New plan, new backs -- old dominance?

For the first time in eight years, Shaun Alexander's toothy smile won't be the public face of the running game. Seattle's career rushing leader, who averaged 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns from 2001 through '05, was released in April after injuries, age and inconsistent line play prevented him from cracking even 900 yards in either of the past two seasons.

Instead, a committee of backs -- free-agent signees Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett, holdover Maurice Morris and two late-round draft choices -- will be called on to restore the ground game to prominence. "We're kind of killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer in the sense that we've got all kinds of guys who can play," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck says.

The changes don't stop with the ballcarriers. The Seahawks hired three new assistant coaches to get the ground game rolling again; Mike Solari and Mike DeBord will direct the offensive line, and Kasey Dunn the backs. And they upgraded the line, which had appeared ill-prepared and uncertain at times, by signing feisty free-agent guard Mike Wahle, a one-time Pro Bowl pick with the Panthers.

When Seattle went to the Super Bowl after the 2005 season, it ranked third in the league with 153.6 rushing yards per game and tied for first in third-and-one conversions (90.9%). But the Seahawks' average slipped to 120.2 yards the following year and 101.2 last season. More telling, the short-yardage game that had been their staple was suddenly a liability: The offense failed on 13 of 24 third-and-one rushes in 2007 for a league-low 45.8% conversion rate. (The league average was 71.6%.)

Addressing the ground game was the priority because Seattle appears to have the personnel everywhere else to make a run at a fifth consecutive division title -- and possibly a second trip to the Super Bowl. The defense has 10 starters back, and the special teams are solid, although a choice still had to be made between 13-year vet Olindo Mare and rookie Brandon Coutu at kicker.

Solari, who has overall responsibility for the new running attack, is a stickler for blocking fundamentals and technique -- areas in which the Seahawks lapsed in '07. In Kansas City he was instrumental in the Chiefs' finishing among the top 10 teams in rushing in five of the past seven seasons. DeBord, another running game specialist, oversaw Michigan's power attack. Pair those two with Jones, Duckett and Wahle, and it's understandable why a current of optimism is running through the locker room.

Jones and Morris are similar backs in that they're speedy, perimeter runners; Duckett has the bigger body for short-yardage calls. Wahle is 31 but is still an upgrade on the line. Fifth-round pick Owen Schmitt of West Virginia provides depth at fullback.

Even the wide receivers were getting into the act, devoting extra time to downfield-blocking drills early on. "I've never seen a commitment to the run like this before," says Jones, who spent the past four seasons in Dallas and split time with Marion Barber the past three. "The running game is what took them deep in the playoffs in the past, and they're trying to get back to that."

But first the backs have to check their egos at the locker-room door. There will be no bell cow, as Alexander was -- at least not initially. Holmgren says he plans to use all of them and views Jones and Morris as co-No. 1s. The coach has experience juggling ballcarriers; he did it often during his coaching tenure in Green Bay, most notably in the Super Bowl-winning 1996 season with Dorsey Levens and Edgar Bennett.

Members of the committee say they have no qualms about splitting time. Says Morris, who is entering his seventh season with Seattle, "This is really going to get the offense back in a groove where it should be." -- Jim Trotter

 

 
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