Seattle Seahawks Preview-Inside News And Notes

_RM18780--nfl_large_580_1000After rushing for just 92 and 72 yards in the first two preseason games, the Seahawks have made moves to bring life to the ground game.

It started on Monday, with the Seahawks agreeing to a one-year deal with Edgerrin James that was finalized Tuesday afternoon. The odd-man-out was T.J. Duckett, who was cut loose.

Releasing Duckett saves the team his $2.5 million salary in 2009, and leaves second-year man Justin Forsett as the third-string running back behind Julius Jones and James.

Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp expects better production, particularly if he wants to create the kind of balance he prefers.

Knapp has implemented a new zone blocking scheme in Seattle. His offenses have had success running the ball wherever he’s coached, finishing in the top 10 in the league in rushing during stops in San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland.

“It was OK, not great,” Knapp said before the Denver game, referring to how the running game looked against the Chargers to open the preseason. “There’s definitely some room for improvement. We didn’t get the breakout runs.”

Seattle should have fared better running the ball against the Broncos.

Denver finished 27th in the league against the run last season, giving up an average of 146 yards a game for a 5-yards-per-carry average. As Knapp sees it, the problem with Seattle has been its ability to break any long runs. In their first two games, the Seahawks’ longest run from scrimmage was an 18-yard scramble by quarterback Seneca Wallace in the second half of the Denver game.

Duckett, who led the Seahawks with eight rushing touchdowns in 2008, told a Seattle-area radio station in July that he was looking forward to expanding his role as a short-yardage back, and believes the team’s new zone-blocking system fits his style as a one-cut, downhill runner.

“I would love to have more carries,” Duckett told KJRAM 950 in July. “I’m not just wanting to settle with being a short-yardage back just because of my size. So yeah, definitely, mentally I’m ready to compete for that.

“Physically I’m ready, so it’s just a matter of now going into camp and working. Working and showing what I can do. And trying – I don’t want to say knocking the stigma of a big back off – but showing I can be more of a guy who runs inside the 20s or a first and second-down guy. And give the coaches more confidence that I can make things happen.”

–The Seahawks could be without their cornerstone offensive tackle Walter Jones for an extended period.

Seahawks coach Jim Mora told reporters last week that offensive tackle Walter Jones would have arthroscopic surgery on his surgically repaired left knee to clean up what is believed to be loose bodies or scar tissue from his previous surgery.

Jones had microfracture surgery in December, effectively ending his 2008 campaign. The 35-year-old perennial Pro Bowl player had been rehabbing the injury ever since, with the hope of returning to the field this season.

Jones returned to participate in his first, fully padded practice on Monday after missing nearly two weeks because of back spasms. The nine-time Pro Bowl player experienced back pain during the first day of training camp July 31.

After returning to practice Monday, Jones made it only halfway through practice before asking out of a team drill because of pain in his knee. Jones later left the field with a trainer. The veteran tackle has worked out in only three of the team’s 23 practices so far during training camp.

Mora said the issue was discovered after Jones received a magnetic-resonance image (MRI) this week

“He just didn’t feel right,” Mora said. “You guys all saw it. The big man didn’t feel right. So we want to make sure that he’s OK.”

Mora said the back spasms that Jones experienced earlier were not related to the knee issue, and that Jones’ back feels fine.

Jones had the surgery on Thursday and it was deemed a success, a team spokesperson said. He’s scheduled to be reevaluated in two weeks.

With Jones out, the Seahawks struggled to protect starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck against an underwhelming Denver defense in a preseason game on Saturday.

Specifically, Sean Locklear, a six-year veteran who the team made Jones’ heir apparent, signing him to a five-year, $32 million deal 18 months ago, gave up two sacks in the first half, both credited to Broncos defensive end Kenny Peterson. With Peterson looming over him on a third-and-3, Locklear also was flagged for a false start.

The Seahawks’ first unit allowed three sacks overall in the first half. Hasselbeck wasn’t touched in the team’s first preseason game against San Diego.

Mora said he would wait to watch the film before commenting on Locklear’s performance.

CAMP CALENDAR: The Seahawks broke camp on Friday, as players were allowed to move out of a team hotel and back home.

Notes and Quotes
Matt Hasselbeck is getting more comfortable with his new security blanket, veteran receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

After hooking up on just one short pass over the middle against San Diego in the first preseason game, Hasselbeck found Houshmandzadeh on a regular basis against the Broncos. The 32-year-old receiver finished with five catches for 41 yards in a half’s work, including a 2-yard touchdown pass on perfectly thrown fade route by Hasselbeck, Houshmandzadeh’s first touchdown as a Seahawk.

“It’s going to be critical to our success,” Hasselbeck said about the burgeoning relationship between the two players. “We misfired a bunch, but we also connected a few times. He and I, we’ve got a good working relationship. I think we’ll get on the same page real quick.”

Houshmandzadeh, who spent the first eight seasons of his career in Cincinnati, understands it will take some time for the two to get on the same page.

“We have some games to get it corrected and a bunch of practices to get it right,” he said. “He’s not used to me 100 percent yet, and to be able to just trust that I am always going to get open. I think that’s the key, trust. If I have man-to-man, I am probably going to win 90-plus percent of the time.”

–Coach Jim Mora said last week that defensive back Marcus Trufant has a “disk issue” that was discovered after the cornerback had an MRI performed on his back. Mora said Trufant’s injury is improving, and he will not need surgery.

Trufant injured his back during a backpedal drill July 29, two days before the start of the team’s training camp.

“It’s good that we found this out now rather than in the middle of the season and try to push him through it, because now we can make some decision on how we move forward,” Mora said about Trufant’s back.

Trufant, 28, has been rehabilitating in the pool at the team’s Renton facility but hasn’t appeared on the practice field during workouts. Mora described Trufant’s injury as similar to Matt Hasselbeck’s back injury last season and said that team trainers’ experience in dealing with the quarterback’s bulging disk should help in the treatment of Trufant.

Hasselbeck, who missed nine games with the hard-to-diagnose injury last season, said Trufant might want to seek counsel other than himself in dealing with his back injury.

“I’m probably the last guy he should take advice from on that, really,” joked Hasselbeck. “Do it some other way. Don’t do it the way I did it.”

Mora said Trufant also does not have a timetable for returning, and that the team will approach the regular season as though neither Jones nor Trufant will be ready for Seattle’s opener against the Rams.

–In a show of solidarity all of the Seahawks offensive linemen got their heads shaved in Mohawks except for guard Mansfield Wrotto, who already was bald.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “They hit pretty hard, but it was good just to do it, and get the feel. It’s been a while since I’ve been hit. It felt good.” — Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on getting sacked for the first time since the team’s Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas.

Strategy and Personnel
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Owen Schmitt vs. Justin Griffith for fullback – Second-year player Schmitt is looking to earn the starting job after last year’s fullback Leonard Weaver left in free agency. The coaching staff has been pleased with his performance so far, but wants him to do a better job sustaining blocks. Griffith is a veteran coming off reconstructive knee surgery who knows the offense and could slide into the starting job if Schmitt falters.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Brandon Coutu improved his chances of winning the kicking job with his performance against Denver, making 2-of-2 field goals, including a career-long 52 yarder. Incumbent Olindo Mare has been hampered by a knee injury.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Kelly Jennings — The much-maligned first-round pick has played better of late, and has a forced fumble, and interception and a pass deflection in the first two games.

ROOKIE REPORT: Rookie defensive end Nick Reed had another strong performance, finishing with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and tipping a punt. … Wide receiver Deon Butler continues to struggle returning kicks. … Defensive lineman Michael Bennett out of Texas A&M notched another sack against Denver.

INJURY REPORT: C Chris Spencer suffered a tear in his left thigh muscled that will force him to sit out the start of the regular season, coach Jim Mora told KJR 950 radio in Seattle on Monday. Spencer was injured in Saturday’s preseason game. He is expected to be sidelined 4-6 weeks. … Craig Terrell also suffered a leg injury and had to be helped off the field. … Seattle coach Jim Mora held rookie linebacker Aaron Curry out of Saturday’s game. Curry suffered a slight groin pull in the team’s Tuesday night practice at Husky Stadium and did not practice the rest of the week. With Curry practicing only a little over a week since arriving at training camp Aug. 7, eight days late, Mora is concerned that the Wake Forest product might be experiencing a case of dead legs. So Mora is taking a cautious approach. Curry played about three quarters against San Diego at both linebacker and defensive end during passing downs. … Veteran linebacker D.D. Lewis started in place of Curry. … Starting running back Julius Jones also did not play against the Broncos Saturday. Jones suffered a thigh bruise against San Diego and practiced sparingly during the week.