In the running for another back

Posted Feb 25, 2012

The Seahawks intend on retaining leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, but that won't stop coach Pete Carroll from looking for a similar-style running back in this year's NFL Draft.

INDIANAPOLIS – If Trent Richardson was to somehow slide to the Seahawks in April’s NFL Draft, would they select the Alabama running back?

That supposed scenario only seems to prompt another – and immediate – question: Why would they do that? The Seahawks already have Marshawn Lynch, and general manager John Schneider said the other day that the potential free agent will remain with the team one way (multiyear contract) or the other (franchise tag).

Yes, Richardson could be the highest-rated player on the team’s draft board at the time. But, also yes, the Seahawks have more pressing needs.

Just as they did in 2000. But quicker than anyone could mutter what are they doing, the Seahawks selected Shaun Alexander, another Alabama running back, with the 19th pick in the first round – despite having signed Ricky Watters as a free agent in 1998. All Alexander did was become the franchise’s all-time leading rusher and supply the legs that carried the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in 2005.

Could it be déjà vu all over again in 2012?

Coach Pete Carroll would like to add a back with skills, and especially a style, similar to those that Lynch flaunts in his “Beast Mode” fashion.

“Marshawn is an effective player. He brings attitude and he brings personality to it, to our style that we like,” Carroll said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It would be nice to have that when he leaves the field, as well. We’ll take it in any shape or form that it will add to the football team.”

The Seahawks have change-of-pace backs in Leon Washington and Justin Forsett, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month. But they are smaller, and while each runs hard there’s running hard and then there’s running that way Lynch did last season while compiling career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns last season.

“I thought Leon and Justin both added and did some good things for us. So we’ve got some decisions to make there as we move forward,” Carroll said. “Of course it starts with Marshawn. But we would like to continue to be big and physical and tough and aggressive as much as we can. That’s our style of play and that’s how we’d like to keep it. That’s something that we’re looking at.”

And Richardson definitely looks the part. He is 5 feet 11, 224 pounds and runs, well, here’s what has to say about him: “It takes a Herculean effort for one defender to bring Richardson down. As one scout put it, if Mark Ingram runs angry, Richardson runs ‘pissed off.’ ”

Ingram, who also went to Alabama, was the first running back selected in last year’s draft.

When asked about his physical style, Richardson evoked one of the toughest players in the league – Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

“It’s a mindset thing with me,” Richardson said on Friday, when his podium appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium was overshadowed by those of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

“I’m not saying that Ray Lewis ain’t going to take me out, because when it comes down to it we’re going to have to see each other in the hole. And I love Uncle Ray to death and he’s going to bring me all the contact he can and beat me up in the hole. But why would you stand down in front of that?”

Referring to Lewis as “Uncle Ray”? Now that sounds like something the free-spirited Lynch would say. Asking why he would “stand down” from the collision? That sounds like something the tough-minded Lynch would do.

Lynch, who will turn 26 the week of the draft, still has a lot of running to do in this league. And, like Schneider, Carroll is planning for Lynch to do it with the Seahawks.

“We have big plans for Marshawn being with us,” Carroll said. “He knows that. He understands that. We’re just working it out right now.”

But what about when Lynch needs a rest, or those rare occasions when he can’t play? Like in Week 7 last season, when Lynch was a pregame scratch because of back spasms and the Seahawks managed 65 rushing yards in the 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

That’s where a bigger, more-physical back would help. While it might not be Richardson, the Seahawks will have other options – in other rounds – to acquire the kind of back Carroll mentioned: the University of Washington’s Chris Polk, Temple’s Bernard Pierce or Utah State’s Robert Turbin.

The Seahawks have built their offense around the zone-blocking scheme installed last year by assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable, and it features Lynch’s style of running.

Polk is well aware of Lynch’s impact on, and importance to, the Seahawks offense. In fact, Lynch and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars are the backs in the league Polk admires and tried to pattern his game after.

“Just how they refuse to go down on every carry,” Polk said Saturday. “Every carry they have, they’re thinking touchdown. It’s just great to see that and I try to emulate that, because I’m a visual learner. So if I see stuff, I’m going to try to incorporate it to my style.”

But is it asking too much for Lynch to carry too much of the load? In addition to career highs in yards (1,204) and touchdowns (13) last season, Lynch also had the most carries (285) of his six-season NFL career.

That’s why Carroll, as well as other coaches, are always looking to “add to the pile” at running back.

“It’s very important, because the wear and tear that a running back faces in the National Football League is unbelievable,” Mike Smith, coach of the Atlanta Falcons, said Saturday.

Smith has Michael Turner, who has rushed for 1,300-plus yards in three of the past four seasons but needed 300-plus carries to do it. That’s why the Falcons drafted Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers last year.

“They have to be able to have guys – not necessarily the same type of back – but you’ve got to have guys who can stay fresh and try to penetrate the defensive line,” Smith said.

If that other back can have a similar style, or close to it, all the better.