Pete Carroll is well aware just what it is that puts the run – and fun – into playing running back.
“Nobody really wants it that way,” the Seahawks’ first-year coach said when asked about the very competitive situation at that very pivotal position after Tuesday’s latest OTA practice.
But to play the position for Carroll, the running backs have to understand where their coach is coming from.
“They’d rather have it, ‘OK, I know what I’m doing. I’m the lead dog,’ ” Carroll said. “But that doesn’t mean that’s what’s best. It’s more comfortable to have everything all secure. But we don’t operate that way.”
No worries. From incumbent starter Julius Jones, to up-and-comer Justin Forsett, to new-back-on-the-block Quinton Ganther, they get it.
They want the ball. They want to be “the guy.” But they realize how the game must be played if you want to play for Carroll – who stresses competition at every position to bring out the best in every player.
So far, that has been the case with the running backs.
Jones, the team’s leading rusher in each of his first two seasons with the Seahawks, continues to run with the No. 1 offense. Forsett, who averaged 5.4 yards per carry last year, is second in line. Ganther, who was added in free agency, and holdover Louis Rankin are next up. In the wings is Leon Washington, who was obtained in a draft day trade with the New York Jets but is not practicing while continuing his rehab of the severe broken leg that ended his 2009 season.
Just don’t ask Carroll who the starter is.
“We’re leaving this thing wide open,” he said. “There is no reason to call it.”
While he conceded that Jones and Forsett are “certainly” in the 1-2 spots, Carroll quickly added, “Whoever is first, it doesn’t matter to me right now. I can’t tell and I don’t care.”
With that said, he’s a look at Jones, Forsett and Ganther – and how they are accepting this competitive situation.
Jones (5-10, 208). A second-round draft choice by the Dallas Cowboys in 2004, he signed with the Seahawks in free agency two years ago. He has been the team’s leading rusher, but with totals of 698 yards in 2008 and 663 yards last season.
“(Competition) doesn’t bother me at all,” Jones said. “Everything pushes me – everything I hear, see. Everything.”
Asked if his mindset was that he is “the guy” and everyone else is competing with him, Jones said, “Always, man. Every running back has that mentality. I know I do. I’ve had that ever since I’ve been playing and I will continue to have that.”
Offered Carroll, “He’s done a great job. He’s been here throughout (the offseason) and he’s a great worker. He’s got terrific talent level, knows what he’s doing. He can catch the football. There is nothing he can’t do.”
Forsett (5-8, 198). A seventh-round draft choice in 2008, Forsett became an almost-instant fan favorite – due to his preseason efforts as a rookie, but also because of how he attacks a game the seems too big for him to play.
The Seahawks lost him briefly in ’08, when the Indianapolis Colts signed Forsett after he was released and before the club could put him on the practice squad. Released by the Colts, Forsett was back to stay by early October.
His rookie contributions were limited to returning punts (9.9-yard average) and kickoffs (24.9). But last year, he compiled more than 900 yards rushing and receiving and also scored five touchdowns.
“Because it is a competition, and nothing is set in stone, that gives everybody the motivation to get that (starting) spot,” Forsett said. “Everybody is competing. Everybody wants it. So you’re getting the best out of everybody.”
Offered Carroll, “Julius is not the same as Justin. They are different guys right now.”
Forsett was one of the first players Carroll mentioned after he was hired in January, as he pointed out how impressive it is to average 5.4 yards per carry.
Ganther (5-9, 220). He spent three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, who drafted him in the seventh round in 2006. Last year, with the Washington Redskins, he ran for a career-high 201 yards on 62 carries. The Seahawks signed him in March.
With the recent release of LenDale White, who was obtained in a draft day trade with the Titans, Ganther has the bulk to be the more physical runner Carroll has been looking for. He also played some fullback while with the Titans.
“One thing I like about it, they stress competing,” Ganther said. “So we’re not going to have any weak links, because everyone is a competitor and you don’t want to be that guy.
“I’ve been in the league five years now because I try to do all the little things right and give it all I’ve got, and they know they can count on me. I’m one of those guys who does things that the other guys don’t want to do. That’s because I’m a ‘team’ player, not a ‘me’ player.”
Offered Carroll, “Quinton does something every day.”
Tuesday, the best of his runs came with a nifty move that allowed him to squirt through a small crease in the line.
“He is aggressive. He is versatile,” Carroll said. “He has good instincts running the football. He is catching the football well. We are anticipating that he is going to be a great special teams player, too. He has done nothing but positive things.”
Which brings us back to the competitive nature of the position – and at the position.
“This is a good, solid, competitive group right now,” Carroll said.