Seahawks 2012: Running backs

Posted Jul 23, 2012

As good as Marshawn Lynch and Michael Robinson were last season, the Seahawks are expecting even more from their Pro Bowl tandem this season because the line is healthier and Robert Turbin has been added to the mix.

This is the last in an eight-part series previewing the Seahawks for the 2012 season. Today, the running backs.

“He is the most-talented running back I’ve ever coached.”

That assessment comes from Sherman Smith, the Seahawks original running back who is now in his third season of coaching the position on Pete Carroll’s staff. Smith used those 10 words that say so much to describe Marshawn Lynch, the team’s Skittles-munching, Beast Mode-running leading rusher.

And Smith’s evaluation definitely is saying something, because prior to rejoining the Seahawks he was running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans, where he worked with Eddie George while the four-time Pro Bowl back was amassing 10,441 career rushing yards; and offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, where he coached the Pro Bowl tandem of running back Clinton Portis and fullback Mike Sellers.

“Marshawn is special,” said Smith, the Seahawks’ leading rusher in their first four seasons. “He’s got some special talents.”

As good as Lynch was last season, when he led the NFL in rushing over the last nine games with 941 of his career-high 1,204 yards and scored 10 of his career-best 13 touchdowns, everyone is expecting even more this season. Especially Lynch and Smith.

“Marshawn can get better, and he knows that,” Smith said. “He has to get better, so you have to make that goal for him. We need him to play at a high level for us this year, and not have to carry the load all the time. But we need him to carry it when we need him to carry it.”

The line also should be healthier, and therefore better, in its second season under assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tom Cable. Michael Robinson is better prepared to handle another full season of throwing lead blocks for Lynch after doing it for the first time in 2011 – when he and Lynch ended up playing in the Pro Bowl.

And the team drafted a back to spell Lynch, without losing the physical nature of the running game, in Robert Turbin.

“He’s going to be a great addition for us,” Smith said.

The downside to acquiring Turbin is that the team parted ways with Justin Forsett, one of Lynch’s best friends from their days at Cal together and also one of the most popular players on the team. But when Leon Washington came over in a draft-day trade with the New York Jets in 2010, the team acquired a multipurpose player who does the same things as Forsett – return kickoffs and punts and serve as the counterpunch runner to Lynch.

As Carroll explained on more than one occasion this offseason, “Marshawn is an effective player. He brings attitude and he brings personality to it, to our style that we like. It would be nice to have that when he leaves the field, as well. We’ll take it in any shape that it will add to the football team.”

That’s why the team took Turbin in the fourth round of the draft.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the guys who were here, because I miss Justin Forsett. I miss how special he is and his ability,” Smith said. “But Robert Turbin, he wants to be a great player and he has the ability to be that. So it’s great when you have a guy like him that has the hunger to say, ‘Man, I want to be great.’ And he’s willing to do what it takes to do that.”

As with any loss involving the running game, the coaches and players are looking ahead, rather than back.

“I think we’ve improved the group through the addition of Robert Turbin,” Smith said. “Marshawn is going to be going into the season full of confidence based on what he did last year. Mike Rob is coming off a confident year, All-Pro fullback. Leon is confident.

“So I just think it’s a more confident group, and we’re building off what the line is doing. So I just think we’re more confident heading into this season.”  

With that said, here’s a closer look at the unit:

Running backs on the 90-man roster: Seven

Running backs carried on the 53-man roster: Four last season, five in 2010

Incumbent starters: RB Marshawn Lynch, FB Michael Robinson

Incumbent backup: RB Leon Washington

On the practice squad last season: RB Vai Taua

Veterans signed in free agency: RB Kregg Lumpkin, RB Tyrell Sutton

Draft pick: RB Robert Turbin

Outlook: Despite all the handwringing over which of the three QBs will start this season, it’s Lynch’s legs that will carry the Seahawks where they want to go – starting with posting the team’s first winning record since 2007, but not stopping until this team returns to the playoffs. It’s the running game that sets up the play-action passing game in coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense. The Pro Bowl duo of Lynch and lead-blocking Robinson will make sure this offense remains headed in that direction – the right direction. The addition of Turbin is a plus, as is the versatility of Washington.