Seahawks preview: Serious shift in offensive backfield

Since Tim Ruskell took over as president and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks in 2005, the team basically has upgraded one area at a time. With work on the defense essentially finished -- Seattle returns all 11 defensive starters this year -- the offense began the makeover treatment at running back.

Out is former MVP Shaun Alexander and in is a two-headed running back, Julius Jones (formerly with Dallas) and holdover Maurice Morris. Also in is tight end John Carlson, a second-round draft choice.

Seattle, which has finished in first place in the NFC West four years running, is a team in transition. Coach Mike Holmgren is in his final year and former Atlanta coach Jim Mora, who is the Seahawks' defensive backfield coach, already has been selected to succeed him in 2009.

With Jones providing the power and Morris the elusiveness, the Seahawks believe they can run the ball better than they did a year ago when the running game became so ineffective that Holmgren essentially gave up on it. The Seahawks are not only counting on a new back, but also on a new offensive line coach, Mike Solari, whose teachings have been well received, even by a player as decorated as left tackle Walter Jones.

Particularly early in the season, running will be important because quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed much work in training camp due to a sore back, and two of his best receivers, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, both may begin the season on the injury list.

The Seahawks have an undersized but quick defense, characterized by linebacker Julian Peterson, who has made 19½ sacks in two seasons with the team, and defensive end Patrick Kerney, who led the NFC last year with 14½.

Seattle will utilize more of a defensive line rotation this year than in the past, in some degree trying to copy the success the Giants had en route to their Super Bowl title. Peterson becomes an end in the nickel defense, rushing from the opposite side from Kerney, and rookie end Lawrence Jackson will move to tackle to give the team three speed rushers.

On the hot seat

Center Chris Spencer, trying to take over from Chris Gray, who retired because of a back injury, has his own back problem and has been struggling making the blocking calls. Seattle needs Spencer because there's no depth; the top backup is Steve Ballos, who is really a guard.

Difference-maker

Rookie tight end John Carlson could become a key player early, even though Holmgren says it's tough for a rookie tight end in his offense because so much is asked of the position; Seattle moved up in the draft to select Carlson because Holmgren felt he was the tight end most ready to play early. In the West Coast offense, the Seahawks need an active tight end to stretch the middle of the field.

Hard road to hoe

The Seahawks, who have had just two winning seasons on the road in their history and traditionally struggle in the East, face four East Coast trips -- to Buffalo, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay and Miami.

Seahawks will be better than you think if ...

The defense can play anywhere near as well on the road as it does at home. The Seahawks blew a 14-0 lead in their playoff game at Green Bay in January because their smallish unit got shoved around on a slippery field, unable to utilize its quickness.

Seahawks will be worse than you think if ...

The new order at running back fails to provide any improvement over Alexander, who averaged only 3.5 yards a carry last season.

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