From Day One, at the first press conference announcing his hiring, coach Pete Carroll made it a priority that the Seattle Seahawks henceforth would be a strong running team.
It had been an area of obvious weakness as the Seahawks struggled in recent seasons. And the questions about how he would get that turned around were plentiful and valid.
Who would run the ball? Did that even matter, because there would have to be greatly improved blocking for anybody to be successful.
Well, the Seahawks have one final exhibition game, Thursday at Oakland, and the issue is about as murky as it was on the day Carroll was hired.
“We weren’t able to run the ball like we want, so we’re just going to keep pounding away at it to where we balance the attack out,” Carroll said Monday when assessing the performance Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
The pounding we’ve seen thus far has mostly been what defenses have done to the backs while the Seahawks averaged a puny 3.4 yards per carry this exhibition season, which is far below last year’s regular-season average of 4.0.
Of the three leading candidates for carries at tailback, Leon Washington has picked up 3.5 yards a try, while incumbents Justin Forsett and Julius Jones are both at 2.8.
Give them a break … it’s not like there’s exactly been room to romp.
There haven’t even been much in the way of flashes as the banged up offensive line apparently is still learning the blocking scheme with a shuffling cast of performers.
A glimpse arose in the second exhibition game against Green Bay when Washington scored on a burst up the middle. The front-side guys got the double team and the backside guys got their cut blocks, and Washington sprinted through a wide opening for the score.
Other than that? Not much out of anybody.
Carroll did not show great alarm when asked about the running backs once again on Monday.
“I don’t think we’ve had enough success running the ball to allow the guys to distinguish themselves,” he said. “Right now, these guys are all battling; they’re all really good football players.”
And if there isn’t a clearly defined starter and a pecking order, well, that’s not a problem for Carroll.
“We were playing two backs nine or 10 years ago … it’s OK,” he said. “It’s pretty accepted. There’s a lot of teams that play with two backs and think it’s a good way to go. It’s getting the best guys on the field and making the right choice at game time as things unfold for you … who’s hot and doing right. It isn’t always the same guy.”
And, in some ways, that might keep the motivation level high.
“The good part is it’s a very competitive position and those guys are great guys and they’re battling,” Carroll said. “And they’ve really taken a leadership position on this team with the way they’ve worked. We’re just proud as heck of them and we’ll sort it out when we can.”
Well, time’s a-wastin’, and the absence of a running game will once again be a limiting factor for this offense if a solution can’t be found.
But there’s a couple factors to sustain fans’ hopes.
Washington probably is not quite back to full speed from the broken leg he suffered last season. He has a nice burst and is elusive, and should only get more so as he continues to get his legs under him.
At Monday’s practice, tackle Chester Pitts was on the field and getting snaps at left tackle, and injured (high-ankle sprain) first-round draft pick Russell Okung was already out of the protective boot and walking around at practice.
Beyond that, the Hawks managed to come up with an offensive game plan against Minnesota that limited the effectiveness of the Vikings’ All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen … and that’s with reserve Mansfield Wrotto playing left tackle for Okung.
They used a variety of formations and plays that kept quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out of Allen’s grasp, and that’s the sort of scheming that was largely ineffective last year when injuries created a revolving door at left tackle.
Still, the issue remains, and the regular season is fast approaching.
“We’re just going to go with the (running back) who gives us the most juice and is making things happen,” Carroll said. “They’re all going to play and we’ll see how they do.”