Nearly two weeks into training camp, all the talk coming out of Seahawks Land has been around a receiving core that's deeper than it has been in years and a revamped defense that is expected to be much more aggressive under new head coach Jim Mora. One group not getting much buzz? The running backs. That is, until now.
For the better part of the last two decades, the Seahawks have trotted out a litany of great running backs from Chris Warren to Ricky Watters to Shaun Alexander. That run came to end last season when Seattle parted ways with Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP, and went with a committee led by holdover Maurice Morris and free-agent additions Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett.
With Morris now in Detroit, the battle for lead dog in new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme between Jones and Duckett will be a subplot that should draw some attention over the next few weeks. The common bond between both backs should be the sense of desperation, as this could be the last chance for both men to prove they have what it takes to be lead backs in the NFL.
Jones comes into camp as the incumbent full-time starter, a job he hasn't held since 2006. Drafted in the second round by Bill Parcells, the Cowboys were so enamored by Jones' talents that they passed on Steven Jackson, who eventually became a Pro Bowl back with the Rams. After showing flashes in his rookie year, injuries in his second season opened the door for an emerging rookie power back named Marion Barber. Barber's production in Jones' absence forced Jones into a time share with the former Minnesota Golden Gopher. After four lackluster seasons, Jones came to Seattle last year hoping to jump start his career. However, a crowded back field and a offense decimated by injuries robbed Jones of having the type of year he had hoped. Despite only 158 carries, Jones still managed nearly 700 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Knapp's emphasis on a running back's ability to plant and go would seem to suit Jones' strengths, which could in turn lead to the breakout year for Jones many have anticipated for the past half-decade.
Jones, however, will once again face stiff competition fromanother big, bruising back in the form of the 6', 255lb Duckett. Last season, Duckett managed just 62 carries as he was mainly used as a short-yardage/goal-line back under Mike Holmgren. However, despite the lack of touches, Duckett still found the end-zone 8 times, as opposed to Jones' two scores. This year, Duckett is reunited with Knapp, whom he worked under during their time together in Atlanta. Duckett's familiarity with Knapp(and vice versa) gives the big man the upper hand over Jones going into preseason and his increased role could give Jones flashbacks from his days in Big D. Duckett possesses deceptive speed for his size and has never gotten the opportunity to show himself as a lead back during his seven-year career. If Jones gets hurt or is slow to pick up the offense, that could open the door for Duckett to take over as the 'Hawks new workhorse.
Duckett vs Jones is just one of several story lines to keep an eye on this preseason. With less than five weeks to go before the start of the regular season, I will be previewing a different position battle to watch each week as we near closer to what should be an eventful 2009 season. Stay tuned.
About the Author
Written by Dave Leonardis
Born and raised in New Jersey, I've been writing since I was 10 and blogging since I was 18. I'm a huge sports nerd, following football, baseball and basketball in particular in close detail. My style is very upfront. I don't pull punches and I'm not shy about criticizing anything I feel deserves a proper tongue-lashing. If you're looking for someone who says what he wants, when he wants, then look no further than this guy right here.