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.
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
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
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
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
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."