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Spencer Ware not backing down from obvious challenge
On one play, he was the lead-blocking fullback for tailback Robert Turbin. On another snap, he was the tailback. On several plays, he was the only back, carrying the ball or catching it out of the backfield.
Just another day on the practice field for Spencer Ware, the running back from LSU who was selected in the sixth round of last month’s NFL Draft with the idea of also trying him at fullback.
And how’s that going?
Asked after Tuesday’s OTA session if there had been those moments where he started to lineup at tailback when he was supposed to be the fullback, Ware smiled and offered, “I’ve had it a few times. But I’m still new the system.”
Not to mention the fullback position, which he last played as a freshman at LSU “just to get time on the field,” as he put it.
The 5-foot-10, 229-pound Ware is one back who isn’t backing down from the obvious challenge of not only trying to earn a spot on the 53-man roster but do it while playing more than one spot.
“He wants it that way. That’s how you learn, by doing it,” said Sherman Smith, the Seahawks’ original running back who is now coaching the position on Pete Carroll’s staff. “So he’s loving it, and he’s doing a real nice job. You can tell that he’s not overwhelmed with the information that he’s getting.”
But then versatility always has been a virtue for Ware. He was a dual-threat quarterback and five-star prospect at Princeton High School in Cincinnati before heading to LSU, where the emphasis switched to the running aspect of his diverse talents.
As a freshman, Ware played behind Stevan Ridley, who ran for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns for the New England Patriots last season. His last two seasons in Baton Rouge, Ware split time with Kenny Hilliard, who scored nine touchdowns in 2011; and Jeremy Hill, who ran for 755 yards and 12 TDs last season.
But Ware always made the most of his opportunities. As a freshman, he ran for 102 yards on 10 carries in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M. As a sophomore, in his first career start, he rushed for 99 yards against Oregon. Last season, he had 134 yards rushing and receiving against Auburn.
And that’s what Ware is attempting to do in his third week as a member of the Seahawks: Tackling any opportunity that comes his way. And they’re coming this week, as the team kicks off the OTA portion of its offseason program, because All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch is not in attendance; and rookie Christine Michael, who was drafted in the second round, has been limited because of what Carroll labeled tight hamstrings.
“It helps,” Ware said of the increase reps, which Tuesday came in the indoor practice facility at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “It gets me in a comfortable position as far as lining up in the fullback or the tailback position. I’m picking it up pretty fast, being able to do some things to disguise what I’m doing for the defense but still know my assignment and the protection and getting out.”
What Ware has displayed to this point is soft hands as a receiver, quick feet as a runner and the willingness to do whatever is asked – blocking as a fullback; running as a tailback; catching the ball as either; and running down the field to cover kicks on special teams.
“I’m a team player and I’m trying to contribute any way I can,” he said. “Something I take pride in is knowing the offense and knowing everybody’s key roles and what is called for in certain situations. So it kind of naturally just comes to me knowing both positions.”
As for those soft hands, Smith credits it to the time Ware spent as a quarterback – which Smith had been at Miami of Ohio before being drafted in the second round of the 1976 NF Draft and moved to running back by the Seahawks.
“Ex-quarterbacks, they’re used to handling the ball,” Smith said. “So handling it as a receiver is going to play into that.”
In addition to a new position, Ware also is adjusting to his new life. In the past month, he has gone from being a college student, to being drafted, to participating in the Seahawks’ rookie minicamp, to signing his rookie contract, to practicing with one of the better teams in the NFL.
“I’m just happy to be a part of the Seahawks’ family,” he said. “And I’m going to do whatever I can to contribute, no matter what it is.”
Ware has some things in common with his new teammates. Like quarterback Russell Wilson, wide receiver Golden Tate and rookie tight end Luke Willson, Ware played baseball well enough that it was a career option. In fact, he was selected in the MLB draft out of high school and played outfield for the LSU baseball team as a freshman.
“Playing in the major leagues was the first dream,” Ware said. “But I decided to go to college and play two sports there. Then it was: What do I really want to do right now? Whatever God has planned for me, that’s the path he’s going to take me down. This is the one so far, so this is my focus.”
Like Tate, All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Walter Thurmond, Ware has “the third” attached to his name – as in Spencer Raleigh Ware III.
“Got to hold the legacy,” he said.
For now, Ware is more than holding his own.
“He’s doing a nice job,” Smith said. “He really is. You can see he’s a fast learner. He’s a conscientious guy. He takes a great deal of pride in wanting to do it right. So he’s doing well.”