| Jones gained a career-best 4.4 yards per carry in '08, but lost the ball too often.
|Bill Frakes/SI |
13 ST. LOUIS
20 at San Francisco
4 at Indianapolis
1 at Dallas
15 at Arizona
22 at Minnesota
29 at St. Louis
6 SAN FRANCISCO
13 at Houston
20 TAMPA BAY
27 at Green Bay
Matt Hasselbeck, Quarterback: Asked in training camp if he was still bothered by the pinched nerve
that caused him to miss nine games last season, the 11-year vet told reporters
that sitting through long team meetings was the only thing that irritated
his back. A dry sense of humor makes Hasselbeck one of the most affable players
in the league, and if he's joking during training camp, you know he's feeling
good -- which is a great sign for the Seahawks, who plummeted from ninth in the NFL
in scoring in 2007 to 25th last year. It was the first time since 2001 that the
offense ranked in the league's bottom half.
Hasselbeck got hurt when he twisted his back while avoiding a pass rush on
the opening series of the first preseason game, but he tried to play
through the pain. "I didn't feel super hurt," he says, but his game was
suffering. He says the pinched nerve would cause his left foot to "shut
off" and his left leg to go to "mush." Doctors told Hasselbeck that rest
was the best option, so beginning with Week 6 he sat out five games. He
returned for three games -- all defeats, which dropped Seattle to 2-10 -- and then
shut it down for the rest of the season. Hasselbeck's 57.8 passer rating was the
lowest of his career.
He spent the off-season strengthening his core and says he feels as strong as
ever -- meaning he's ready to continue his streak of three straight Pro Bowl
appearances in odd-numbered seasons.
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Given a fresh start thanks to a coaching change, Julius Jones plans to energize an offense that counts heavily on the run.
Everything was going just as Julius Jones had hoped. After a
career-worst season with the Cowboys in 2007, the fifth-year running back was
determined to redeem himself with the Seahawks, who had signed him to a
four-year free-agent deal worth up to $16 million. He gained only
45 yards in the season opener at Buffalo but then broke loose for
127 yards against the 49ers and 140 against the Rams. He could feel the
clouds parting, the sun shining. But soon ... darkness.
Jones carried the ball 48 times against San Francisco and
St. Louis, after which his number of attempts plummeted -- from 17 to 12 to
seven to six. By November he was out of the starting lineup. By December he was
all but out of the rotation.
But when the season ended, the clouds parted again for Jones. His primary
detractor, Mike Holmgren, stepped down as coach, clearing the way for designated
successor Jim Mora Jr., the team's secondary coach. "When things weren't
going too well, Coach Mora was really positive with me," Jones says. "He would
make little comments like, 'Keep your head up. Don't worry about it.' That
helped me out a lot, because there was a time when I didn't feel wanted or
needed. There were times when I felt like I was going a little insane."
Three weeks into training camp Jones probably felt as if someone had turned
back the clock on him, as the team signed free agent Edgerrin James, 11th on the
league's alltime rushing list, to a one-year, $2 million deal. The Seahawks
insist that James, 32, will be a complement to Jones.
Injuries at quarterback and wide receiver started Jones on his downward
spiral in '08. Seattle would sometimes sign a wideout on Monday, then start him
on Sunday. Opponents capitalized by stacking the box and daring the Seahawks to
beat them through the air. On other occasions Seattle had no choice but to
abandon the run while playing catch-up. The team finished 4-12, its first losing
season since 2002.
Not that Jones didn't have a hand in his own demotion. During a Thanksgiving
Day loss to Dallas he coughed up the ball twice, which didn't exactly endear him
to Holmgren, who tolerates fumbles the way Tiger Woods tolerates photographers
with itchy index fingers. When Jones turned it over in the first quarter,
Holmgren stewed. When he fumbled out-of-bounds in the fourth quarter, Holmgren
boiled. Jones did not get his number called again that day and had only six
carries over the final three games. Though he averaged a career-high
4.4 yards a carry, he finished with only 698 rushing yards, the
second-lowest total of his NFL career.
Touches shouldn't be a problem this season, however. Mora and new offensive
coordinator Greg Knapp are counting on Jones to be the primary ballcarrier in
their backfield-by-committee, which includes T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett.
The Seahawks are installing a zone-blocking scheme in which the backs are being
asked to plant once and get upfield.
"We feel this fits him better than any scheme he's been in," general manager
Tim Ruskell says of Jones. "You've just got to go where the crease is, and one
thing he does have is burst."
The Seahawks are at their best when they run effectively. When they went to
the Super Bowl at the end of the 2005 season, they ranked third in the league in
rushing; in the three seasons since, they've been no better than 14th. But if
quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and his talented stable of receivers can remain
healthy -- Hasselbeck was out nine games with a bad back, and wideouts Deion Branch
and Nate Burleson missed a combined 23 games -- it should create running lanes for
"I've never seen him so serious, so focused, so in shape," Ruskell says. "He
really appreciates that we have handed him the ball and said, We believe in you.
I don't know that anyone else has done that. That can do things for
-- Jim Trotter