Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks at Bills, Pt. 2

In the second of four preview articles, Tyler Dunne of Buffalo Football Report asks five questions to Doug Farrar of Seahawks.NET about the Seahawks, the team the Bills will face in their season opener. What does Seattle's backfield look like now, how healthy is Matt Hasselbeck, and who could surprise on the Seahawks' side?

Tyler Dunne: Seattle decided to ditch the Shaun Alexander era for a completely new rushing game. How will carries be dispersed amongst Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Maurice Morris, and do you believe they'll be effective?

Doug Farrar: My suspicion is that Morris will get the most carries, but he's not a bruiser who will run the ball 350 times, either. Morris and Jones are both smaller backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield and make thing happen in space. If the Seahawks run the ball 500 times this season, you could maybe split it up as Morris 200/Jones 150/Duckett 75/Everyone Else 75. More passes in the flats, though. Duckett is the short-yardage back who will extend drives on third-and-short, which was a real problem for the Seahawks last year.

I think the running game will be the most effective it's been since 2005, for two reasons: First, the committee approach accentuates the positive traits of each back without leaving any of them in there long enough to expose their weaknesses. Second, the acquisition of left guard Mike Wahle and line coach Mike Solari point to a renewed emphasis on the offensive line, which has been the team's real Achilles heel since Super Bowl XL.

TD: The team has been very cautious with Matt Hasselbeck's back injury. Will he be at full strength for the opener, and will the lack of preseason reps hurt the team's offense?

DF: He should be close -- Hasselbeck's been getting reps in practice, and the less drama-obsessed reports in Seattle seem to think that he'll be okay. The lack of recent reps are more than mitigated by his familiarity with the offense, though the roster hits at receiver have to be a concern -- we'll talk about one in particular very soon.

TD: Who was the biggest surprise of traning camp that could make be a surprise game-breaker in week one?

DF: Two unheralded players stood out through the preseason, and both could make a difference in this game: Receiver Jordan Kent, an Oregon product who didn't even play high-school football, is a ridiculous athlete (basketball and track) who started his football education in college. Despite limited experience, he showed this preseason that he can handle basic routes, and he's not afraid of traffic -- unlike a lot of track guys who get hit once and dry up. Kent is a hard worker who knows he can't just get by on ability. With Seattle's receiver corps in flux, he could be a real factor.

Running back/punt returner Justin Forsett took everyone by surprise. A seventh-round pick in 2008, he played much bigger than his small stature in the preseason, gaining more all-purpose yards than anyone except Danny Ware of the Giants in the preseason. While Forsett's primary talent is as a change-of-pace back, he'll stick in the roister as a return man. He's raw as a punt returner, though that's to be expected, since he had never returned punts before the Seahawks told him that was how to make the team. Still, he's got the speed and elusiveness to break a couple and put the Seahawks in great field position

TD: How long will Bobby Engram's broken right shoulder linger into the season, and how do the Seahawks replace him within their pass-heavy scheme?

DF: Engram is projected to be out with a broken clavicle for the first month of the season, and that's a major hit to Matt Hasselbeck's efficiency. Every great quarterback has that one receiver with which he shares an unspoken bond, and Engram has been Hasselbeck's escape hatch for years. Few are better at going over the middle and getting necessary yardage on short slants -- he's a natural in this offense. Right now, Nate Burleson is the only other receiver who's got veteran experience running those kinds of routes with Hasselbeck and getting the timing down, and he's gong to be split wide more as the #1 receiver until Engram and Deion Branch return. How do they replace him? That isn't really an option -- they have to work around what they can't do in the passing game for the next few weeks.

TD: At defensive end, has rookie Lawrence Jackson distanced himself from Daryl Tapp? What makes Jackson special?

DF: There's been a lot of talk about a competition between Jackson and Tapp for the starting right defensive end slot, but I think that's a bit off-base -- they're two very different players. Tapp is a pass rusher with some run-stopping ability. He's not been as dynamic off the edge as people might prefer, though he's not a bad player.

Jackson is bigger and more of a well-rounded player. The Seahawks liked him best of all the rookie ends because of Jackson's ability to move inside and shade over guard in passing downs, giving Seattle different pass-rushing looks, On those types of plays, you'd see Tapp and Jackson on the field at the same time. Personally, I think that because there's so much rotation among more defensive lines these days, competitions among alleged starters are frequently overblown. It's more about depth and presenting different looks to an offense. That's how the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.


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