Seahawks Position Analysis: The Running Backs

In 2006, there were few more graphic representations of the year-to-year variance in NFL performance than Seattle's backfield. After Shaun Alexander's MVP season in 2005, the line that made him go fell apart. Injuries and decreased fullback effectiveness took away any possible chance of a repeat performance. What does 2007 hold for Seattle's running backs?

Shaun Alexander
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/225 Yr: 8 Age: 29 Alabama

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

10

10

252

896

3.6

33

7

54

CAREER

106

86

1969

8713

4.4

88

96

459

It never fails. It seems that every time a player signs a big contract following a “contract year” he either gets injured or his production falls off sharply. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Alexander who struggled all year with a broken bone in his foot and missed six games.

Heck, if it wasn’t the “contract year” curse that got him, it could have been the fabled “Madden” curse as Alexander also ended up on the cover of the most popular video game.

Alexander injured his foot in the first quarter of the Seahawks’ game against the New York Giants in week three, and managed only 47 yards on 20 carries before being sidelined. He met with doctors the following Monday and it was determined he had a hairline fracture of the middle bone in his right foot.

The Seahawks managed to live and succeed without the 2005 league MVP, but the offense lacked any sort of explosion and became very one-dimensional without him.

A healthy Alexander runs well between the tackles and even has enough speed to get the edge and run away from defenders when he gets into the secondary. He also has improved his toughness and become much more deliberate when he is asked to run off-tackle plays. Before the 2005 season, he would dance in the backfield, hoping to wait for a hole to open, which usually resulted in lost yardage or a short play.

It also helped drive Mike Holmgren’s blood pressure to record highs.

With his new and improved running style, Alexander can still be one of the top five running backs in the NFL. Considering that the 2006 was the first time since 2000 he hadn’t rushed for at least 14 touchdowns and 1,100 yards he still has some mileage left on his tires, but the days of 1,800 yards and 25 touchdowns are probably in the rear-view mirror for the talented back.

2007 Outlook: Alexander will turn 30 two weeks before the start of the regular season and that means that he’s probably on the downside of what has been an outstandingly productive career.

Just because he might not be as productive as he was in his 20’s, that doesn’t mean Alexander can’t be a solid back for the Seahawks and a centerpiece of their offense.

Expect Alexander to get off to a fast start this year against teams that struggled to stop the run in 2006. Five of Seattle’s first seven opponents gave up more than 116 yards rushing per game and two – New Orleans and St. Louis – gave up more than 128 per game.

With the solidification of the offensive line, Alexander could easily have 800 yards by the time the Seahawks get their bye in week eight, but then he is likely to slow down a bit as the season takes a toll on his body. That is why it is imperative to find another back to take some of the carries as the seasons rolls on. Also, Seattle faces off against two of the top backs in the NFC four times – Steven Jackson and Frank Gore – and he loves the spotlight that those games bring, so expect him to not want to be one-upped as the best back in the conference, let alone the NFC West.


Maurice Morris
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/205 Yr: 6 Age: 27 Oregon

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

16

6

161

604

3.8

24

0

33

CAREER

74

9

332

1410

4.7

49

1

3

75

Re-signing with Seattle proved to be a good move for both Morris and the Seahawks. After Shaun Alexander went down with an injury and Morris was able to step in and, in two wins over St. Louis and a shutout victory over the Oakland Raiders, he was the main cog in the engine that pushed Seattle to victory. Morris is a solid change-of-pace back that has excellent quickness and underrated speed.

Morris doesn’t dance like so many backs with his size tend to do, but because of his limited size his body will never be able to take the pounding of an every-down back. As a receiver, he’s probably the most gifted of Seattle’s backs, which isn’t saying a lot, and he’s gotten better at picking up the blitz - his value to the team is probably at its highest point so far.

2007 Outlook: Like last year, Seattle will be hoping that Morris can spell Alexander at times. Morris showed he can be a solid back when called upon, but he’s not a feature-back you can rely on for 16 weeks. His 600 yards last year almost doubled what he had put up the other four years he’s been with the team and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be as productive now that he’s gotten a full taste of what the NFL has to offer.


Marquis Weeks
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/220 Yr: 2 Age: 26 Virginia

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

10

0

3

8

2.7

3

0

0

0

CAREER

10

0

3

8

2.7

3

0

0

0

Weeks did not make the roster in 2005 as an undrafted free agent and was named to the practice squad for that season. Came to training camp in 2006 as the third running back and was eventually placed on the practice squad to start the season, but was activated once Alexander went down with his injury. He played in 10 games, mostly on special teams, but got three carries for eight yards in spot duty as a relief to Morris.

Weeks is a player who will do whatever the team needs him to do. He’s a solid special teams player and acts as one of the gunners on the kickoff team. He also has good hands and athleticism and head coach Mike Holmgren likes his abilities as a return man as well.

2007 Outlook: Heading into training camp, Weeks is basically in the same position he’s been the past two years. He’s the third back on the depth chart and will be battling for a roster spot. However, unlike the past two years, Weeks has a very good shot at sticking because of his performance on special teams and the fact that he’s proven to be a solid performer when called upon.


A.J. Harris
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/230 Yr: 1 Age: 23 Northern Illinois

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

WAS

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

CAREER

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Harris was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Washington Redskins during training camp in 2006 and did not play in a game last season.

2007 Outlook: Because Seattle already has two established NFL players in Alexander and Morris, the chances of Harris making the squad fall on his shoulders alone and how he does when given the chance during camp and the preseason. He’ll battle Weeks for the third spot in the backfield and, because of his size, he could even become a candidate to get a look at fullback in the need arises. Most likely headed to the practice squad if he hopes to stick with the team this year.


Kenny James
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/224 Yr: R Age: 23 Washington

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

Washington Huskies

10

8

108

416

3.9

54

3

3

0

CAREER

34

23

431

1715

4.0

54

11

10

0

James is a legend in the Central Valley of California. He rushed for over 5,000 yards and 96 touchdowns in three years including 2,900 and 46 touchdowns as a senior. Redshirted his first year at Washington before starting 23 of 34 games for the Huskies in four years. His problems come from an inability to stay healthy. He’s missed time with shoulder, hip and ankle injuries over the past four years. When he is healthy he has excellent vision, is a good receiver out of the backfield and can pick up the blitz well on passing downs.

2007 Outlook: James doesn’t possess the speed necessary to be a standout NFL back, but his vision and running style, if he can stay healthy, could help him stick on a pro roster at some point. Will it be with the Seahawks? It’s doubtful, but he’s got the drive and intensity needed to push the players ahead of him on the depth chart.


Fullbacks

Mack Strong
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/240 Yr: 14 Age: 35 Georgia

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

16

10

33

149

4.5

17

1

0

12

CAREER

196

108

226

890

3.9

21

5

2

88

After going his first 11 seasons without a Pro Bowl appearance, Strong was named to his second-consecutive postseason Hawaii trip after the 2006 season. Honestly, this was more about fair play after a string of unheralded years than it was about what he did on the field that year. Strong’s season could kindly be called a near-disaster – he led all non-linemen in blown blocks with six, and he dropped more passes than any other fullback, leading to Seattle’s league-worst efficiency rating in screen passes. With Moran Norris providing quality road-grading for Frank Gore in San Francisco, Strong isn’t even the division’s best fullback anymore.

2007 Outlook: Strong could still be productive for the Seahawks, but he'll most likely require a situational role. He’s probably not going to be an every-down player anymore, and his future could be a bit like Edgar Martinez’s after his bat speed went south – fans will patiently wait for the occasional stellar moment from one of their most beloved icons.


Leonard Weaver
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/250 Yr: 3 Age: 24 Carson- Newman College

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

CAREER

16

0

17

80

4.7

24

0

1

3

Weaver was placed on injured reserve for 2006 after injuring his ankle in the preseason.

2007 Outlook: Word is that Weaver is in excellent condition and his knee is 100% heading into camp. He’s a better runner than lead blocker, but he’s reportedly worked very hard on this aspect of his game. He should be a solid special teams player – he was a devastating up-back on the kickoff return team as a rookie in 2005 – and as a replacement on certain downs for Strong. A former tight end, Weaver could get looks as a "move" fullback or H-back this year.

Weaver was named as one of Pro Football Prospectus' Top 25 NFL Prospects for 2007.


Josh Parry
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/250 Yr: 3 Age: 29 San Jose State

RECEIVING

Year

Team

G

GS

Rec

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

8

0

1

11

11.0

11

0

0

1

CAREER

37

0

23

175

7.6

22

0

1

10

Parry spent the first four years of his career with Philadelphia before being acquired by the Seahawks shortly before the 2006 for an undisclosed 2008 draft choice. Parry saw time in eight games, mostly on special teams, before being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

2007 Outlook: With Strong almost guaranteed a spot, Parry will battle with Weaver and second-year fullback David Kirtman for the backup spot. Will Seattle carry more than two? It’s doubtful, but Parry is a solid blocker and has shown good hands coming out of the backfield. At this point, he’d have to be considered the leader for the second fullback spot heading into camp.


David Kirtman
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/240 Yr: 2 Age: 24 USC

RUSHING

Year

Team

G

GS

Att

Yards

Avg

Lg

TD

20+

FD

2006

SEA

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

CAREER

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Kirtman, Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice in 2006, spent the first three months of the season on the practice squad and was signed to the regular roster for the final three games, however he was inactive for those three games and the two playoff contests as well.

2007 Outlook: Kirtman has an uphill battle behind both Parry and Weaver, but he’s got plenty of athleticism and skill to help the Seahawks down the road if they decide he’s their man. The likelihood that he ends up on the practice squad this season as insurance for the eventual retirement of Strong is very good


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