Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2017 season. Today, we focus on what figures to be a competitive battle in the backfield. The list wraps up Friday with a look at what will undoubtedly be the most scrutinized position group in camp.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll learned two things last year as his team finished with a 10-5-1 record on its way to another NFC West title.
First, Carroll saw that his team, when necessary, can still do enough to win an NFC West title and advance to the Divisional Round of the playoffs even when its running game is nowhere near where the Seahawks are accustomed to it being. And two, while watching that unfold, Carroll had it reinforced that he really doesn't want to go through that type of season again when it comes to the running game.
With Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise and Russell Wilson injured at various points of the year, and with a young offensive line battling to find consistency, and with Marshawn Lynch retired, the Seahawks running game, which was consistently one of the best in the league from the second half of the 2011 season through 2015, took a big step back last year. That didn't just hurt the Seahawks because of the rushing productivity lost; it also put more pressure on a young offensive line to pass protect as Wilson had career highs in passes attempted and completed, and it put more burden on the defense because the offense didn't have as many of its long, sustained drives.
"We had to throw the ball more (last year), and it exposed some stuff," Carroll said in March. "It exposed the young linemen somewhat, it forced us into situations on the other side of the ball, all of that. That's why I'm so adamant about getting us back to the elements that we need to have in the running game that complement the rest of the team. I'm not pointing the finger and blaming anyone, but that's what was so glaringly obvious. When Russell wasn't equipped to run, it factored into the running game in the subtle ways—over the years he has made us unique. In one respect, we've learned how to play without it and still win the division and all of that, and we'll be better for that, but that's not the way I want to go. So I'll try to avoid that as much as possible."
Of all the football-related topics Carroll has discussed this offseason, perhaps none has been more important than his desire to re-establish a dominant running game. The Seahawks are banking on that young offensive line to improve, and added help there by signing free agents Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi; they drafted offensive lineman Ethan Pocic in the second round and running back Chris Carson in the seventh-round, and most notably, they signed former Green Bay Packers Pro-Bowl running back Eddie Lacy in free agency. The hope is that all of those moves, along with improved health for players like Rawls, Prosise and Wilson will get the Seahawks back to being a balanced, explosive offense with a physical running game helping to set the tone.
"It's just the way he plays the game, it fits us, it complements us," Carroll said of Lacy. "We always want to be a physical, committed, aggressive run team. Coming off of last year where we were unable to capture that, he just kind of popped at the right time. I think there was a time when we spent three months (in 2010) trying to get Marshawn Lynch in our program. And (general manager John Schneider) had to keep calling and keep calling and keep calling, because we wanted to bring in a guy like him and see how to utilize him as we built a new program. I think he did a marvelous job of sending a message and showing how we want this game played."
But while Lacy was brought in to help the Seahawks get back to their old ways running the ball, they aren't counting on him alone to get the job done. Prior to a pair of ankle/leg injuries, Rawls looked very capable of being Seattle's next dominant back, leading the NFL in rushing yards-per-attempt in 2015, and after a healthy offseason, he's ready to prove he can still be that type of player. Prosise, a third-round pick in 2016, was electric in limited playing time last year, but struggled to stay healthy, and he's back having bulked up a bit in an attempt to better withstand the rigors of an NFL season. And Collins, another 2016 draft pick, finished strong late last season and is looking to build off of that when camp begins.
Lacy, Rawls and Prosise all seem certain to earn significant playing time, and there won't necessarily be a clear-cut lead back. As much as Lynch was that player for most of his tenure in Seattle, Carroll has long talked about his preference of having a "one-two punch" in the backfield, a vision best illustrated by what he had at USC with Reggie Bush and LenDale White. And if the Seahawks do indeed get back to being balanced, there will be plenty of touches to go around for those three backs, as well as Wilson.
"I think Eddie has a chance to really accent (the running game), as does Thomas," Carroll said. "Thomas has that factor as well that we've always talked about. He's physical, aggressive and tough. To have two guys like that on our team, and then the style that C.J. (Prosise) brings and Alex (Collins) brings to complement that, I think that's the kind of makeup that we're looking for. All of our guys have felt that. Coaches are excited about it, ownership, everybody is. And so we'll see how it fits."
Beyond that competition for the majority of the carries, there should also be a really good battle in camp for the final couple of roster spots at running back. The Seahawks have carried anywhere from three to five running backs, plus a fullback, in recent years, and in addition to Collins, the Seahawks are excited about a number of other young backs, including Carson, who Carroll seems to mention every time he gets the chance, and former 49ers back Mike Davis.
"I think this should be the most competitive camp we've had depth wise and that's just a tribute to what happened in the draft and our guys coming back off the injuries and the guys we've been able to acquire," Carroll said. "It should be a really hard-nosed, tough camp for us."
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