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Training days: Seahawks optimistic after offseason overhaul

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- It didn't take long to recognize how Tim Ruskell handles being president of the Seattle Seahawks. Entering his fourth season, he has made it patently clear, if the team ends the season with a recognizable weakness, he attacks it with the fervor of a lion seeking his prey.

Consequently, the Seahawks are seeking their fifth consecutive NFC West title.

Two years ago, he traded a No. 1 draft pick to New England for wide receiver Deion Branch to get a much-needed starting flanker for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. They've become fast friends and, when healthy, Branch has been a lethal weapon.

Last year he signed free-agent safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell, and added secondary coach Jim Mora as an assistant coach to confront the problem of getting beaten over the top far too often. The result was the Seahawks allowed the fewest touchdown passes of any team in the NFL in 2007.

This time around, it was the running game, which was erratic at best last season, with short yardage a particularly vexing issue. So Ruskell went out and signed Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett, and Shaun Alexander was released for the backfield, with Kasey Dunn hired as the new running backs coach.

But that was only part of the problem. The offensive line carried its share of the responsibility, so Ruskell hired highly regarded Mike Solari to coach the offensive line and added former Michigan assistant head coach Mike DeBord as his assistant. Capping it off, he signed free agent guard Mike Wahle, a Pro-Bowler with Carolina in 2005-06, to play left guard next to perennial All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones.

Obviously, he's counting on the facelift to take the pressure off of Hasselbeck. After a particularly heart-breaking loss at Cleveland the first week of November -- clearly a byproduct of short-yardage inability -- coach Mike Holmgren virtually scrapped the running game and placed the offense on Hasselbeck's right arm. He had another Pro Bowl year, and broke several personal and team records, but they all came into this season wanting a more balanced attack.

"If we have the same result this year with our running game as we did last year in the secondary, we'll be very pleased," Ruskell said. "I thought those guys played real well last year. We don't want to do anything half way. If we recognize a problem, let's fix it right away. We don't have years to get that done.

"Our running game wasn't bad. It just wasn't as consistently dependable as we need it to be. That's what we're looking for and what we expect to happen."

Holmgren has opened the door for Jones to battle incumbent backup Maurice Morris for carries, with Jones clearly bringing speed, versatility and exuberance into the backfield.

Just as likely to make an impact is fourth-year fullback Leonard Weaver, who stunningly took over for Pro Bowl fullback Mack Strong, whose career ended abruptly in the fifth game last season to a neck injury. Weaver, a former Division II All-American tight end, has great hands, and has a great burst of speed while developing into what Holmgren refers to as his best blocking back.

![]( Kirkland, Wash.

Preseason games:
Aug. 8: at Minnesota, 34-17
Aug. 16: Chicago, 9 p.m. ET

Aug. 25: at San Diego, 8 p.m. ET

Aug. 29: Oakland, 10 p.m. ET

He and Duckett, who could play both halfback and fullback, could be a dynamic short yardage duo, while all four of the backs will offer a propensity to catch the football out of the backfield, something that has all but evaporated the past few seasons.

With Wahle penciled in next to Jones, and Rob Sims -- in his third year from Ohio State -- sliding over to right guard next to underrated right tackle Sean Locklear, a lot of what happens up front could depend on fourth-year center Chris Spencer. Coming off shoulder surgery and sidelined since straining his back on July 24, their first-round pick in 2005 is expected to anchor the line. And with the loss of veteran Chris Gray to retirement the second week of camp to a spinal injury comparable in its unexpectedness to Strong's retirement, former guard Steve Vallos, a seventh-round draft choice in 2007 out of Wake Forest, started the first preseason game at Minnesota and showed well.

Indeed, there is plenty of reason for optimism that the running game will regain its impact, and Ruskell just hopes it follows suit to what transpired in his previous makeovers.

"We need the running game to be consistent so we have the balance to take the pressure off Matt and the passing game all the time," Ruskell said. "We need that because we have to be good on the road to have a good season. Those are the things they know we have to do better at and we're confident we will. This team matches up with any of the teams we've had here so far, and now we've got to go out and make it happen."

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