The competition to become the Seattle Seahawks’ starting running back

Published on May 1, 2010 by     

Thanks to a pair of draft-day trades, the competition to become the Seahawks’ starting running back has doubled with the arrivals of LenDale White and Leon Washington to challenge Julius Jones and Justin Forsett

As elusive as he is, Leon Washington is having a difficult time avoiding the Jones’ brothers.

For the past three seasons, Washington was a backup to Thomas Jones with the New York Jets. Now with the Seahawks, after being acquired in a trade last Saturday, Washington finds himself behind Julius Jones – Thomas’ younger brother.

“Those are some good dudes. I like them,” Washington said when asked about going not only coast to coast but from Jones to Jones. “I told Julius, his big brother is a beast.”

Make that a productive beast. Thomas Jones rushed for 1,402 yards last season to finish third in the NFL. He also had 1,312 yards in 2008 and 1,119 in 2007. Julius Jones has led the Seahawks in rushing in his first two seasons with the club, but with a combined yardage total (1,361) than doesn’t match Thomas’ output from last year.

That disparity accentuates the biggest difference between Washington’s bicoastal and joint-Jones experience: There will be competition for the starting job, as well as carries, with the Seahawks.

“Right now, we don’t even have a depth chart,” is the way offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates put it after Saturday’s practice in the three-day minicamp that concludes Sunday. “It’s still early. We’re just giving them all the rock and letting them run.”

With an eye to the regular-season opener, he added, “Come Sept. 12, we’ll know who’s our starting running back.”

The competition for that job doubled last Saturday, when the Seahawks made not only the trade to acquire Washington but also another to get LenDale White from the Tennessee Titans.

“It’s exciting,” Bates said. “We try to get as many great football players as we can.”

While there might not be a depth chart at this point, there has been a pecking order in the first two practices. It starts with Jones, who was signed in free agency in 2008. Next up has been White, who played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC and also for running backs coach Sherman Smith during his first two seasons with the Titans – including 2007, when he ran for 1,110 yards. Then comes Justin Forsett, a seventh-round draft choice in 2008 who averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season.

The coaches will have to wait to see Washington on the practice field until training camp opens in late July because he is recovering from breaking the fibula and tibia in his right leg last October.

“Leon is in all meetings. He’s taking notes,” Bates said. “He’s excited about the offense. He’s just watching the other backs and learning. If you look at his career, and talk to the people in New York, we’ve got a true professional.

“So he’s going to do everything he can to get back as soon as possible and he’s going to be ready to play when he’s healthy.”

All signs point to that being training camp.

“That’s my goal,” said Washington, who had a rod surgically implanted in his leg. “I’m going to do everything in my will to get there. The way I feel right now, it looks like a strong possibility.”

Each back brings different skills to the mix.

Jones played in a zone-blocking scheme last season, and the Seahawks will feature it even more this season under Bates and line coach Alex Gibbs. He has good quickness to the hole and enough open-field speed to finish the run.

Forsett is similar to Jones, but has the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field – or run through them, as he did so impressively last season. He also caught 41 passes and was a willing blocking in his role as the third-down back in 2009.

White, at 225 pounds, has the physical presence and style that Carroll has been looking to add to the running game since he was hired in January – not to mention pretty decent feet for a player his size. In addition to his 1,110-yard rushing performance in 2007, White scored 15 touchdowns in 2008.

Washington uses his change-of-direction skills to make tacklers miss in the open field, as well as possessing finishing speed that has been referred to as “dynamic.” He rushed for 650 yards in 2006, while averaging 5.9 yards per carry and catching 47 passes in 2008.

Washington also was the AFC Pro Bowl kick returner in 2008, when he led the league in combined return yards (2,332). Forsett has returned kickoffs and punts for the Seahawks.

Maybe that’s why Bates was smiling as he discussed his suddenly doubled stable of running backs.

“It’s all about competition,” Bates said. “And the more guys who’ve got that are successful backs, which all of them are, it makes them come to work every day. These guys are competitive by nature. They’re professional football players because they learned how to compete in high school and college.”

White already has announced his intention, after getting limited carries last season while playing behind NFL rushing champion Chris Johnson in Tennessee.

“I’ve come here to start,” the trimmed-down White said after Friday’s first practice. “I didn’t come here to sit the bench anymore.

“So I hope the other guys are ready.”

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