The Running Back By Committee

At the Town Hall meeting between Seahawks brass and season ticket holders, our offensive coordinator mentioned that we could be looking at a running back by committee approach in the 2014 season.  Darrell Bevell has started to walk back those comments a bit, but it would still stand to reason that Christine Michael is the future, and therefore should probably start getting some real game experience.

Maybe it’s just me being a Seahawks fan – where we’ve never had to deal with the RBBC – but it certainly comes with a negative connotation.  The RBBC is something teams turn to when they don’t really have one great running back, but rather two mediocre backs.  You feed them both in equal measure until you find the one with the hot hand, and you ride him the rest of the game.  Or, you use one back to get all the yards between the 20’s, and one closer to the goalline (because ostensibly, the guy who got you all those yards up TO the goalline is COMPLETELY incapable of pushing it through for that touchdown).

Rare is the situation that you have with the Bills of today – with two elite backs who are both capable of not only pushing it into the endzone, but also breaking it for long runs in the open field.  Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are a committee of backs who could just as easily be lone starters on any given team (what prevents that from happening, more than anything, is their proneness to injury).

But, like I said before, the Seahawks haven’t really had to deal with this.  We’ve seemingly ALWAYS had an elite back, or at least a very good back (with the only real committee I recall being the failed Julius Jones/T.J. Duckett experiment).  Curt Warner giving way to Chris Warren, giving way to Ricky Watters, giving way to Shaun Alexander, eventually giving way to Marshawn Lynch.  That’s a nice run of backs, with only a couple of small gaps in between.  It seems like, regardless of the problems this franchise has had in the past, they’ve at least had a good plan in dealing with the running game.

This feels like uncharted territory, but it’s really not.  In the 2001 season, Ricky Watters was 32 years old – which is absolutely ancient when it comes to running backs.  But, he was coming off of six straight seasons with at least 1,100 yards rushing.  In 2000, he played in all the games and averaged 4.5 yards per carry (which was a career high average for him, when you factor in him playing in all 16 games).  I wouldn’t say he was in his prime, per se, but he was running at a high level and he probably could have hung on and done well for himself over an additional few years.

Except, the thing was, the Seahawks had just drafted Shaun Alexander in 2000.  He didn’t play a whole lot as a rookie, but the team still had big plans for him, and could ill afford to let him ride the pine for two straight years.

2001 started, and Ricky Watters was still the team’s starting back.  In the first two starts, Alexander had a helluva time cutting into his carries – he was still being treated as the team’s backup.  However, after an injury to Watters’ shoulder in the third game of the season, Alexander was handed the keys to the car and never let go.  In Alexander’s very first start, he ran for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns on 31 carries.  He would not look back.  His 2001 season wasn’t a world-beater or anything, but he tacked on some brilliant performances to really show his promise and potential (highlighted by a 266-yard, 3-TD performance against the Raiders in week 8).  Ricky Watters would return for a couple of games in December, but then we lost him to injury again and he would never play another snap in the NFL.

It’s hard for me to say what the team’s plan was for that 2001 season, had Ricky Watters not been injured for a huge chunk of games.  But, my guess is, we would have incorporated Alexander into the offense more and more as the weeks went on.  As things went, we got a little lucky, as we didn’t have to worry about any discontent or controversy.  A major injury will do that.  Either way, you have to think that 2001 would have been Ricky Watters’ final season in a Seahawks uniform, regardless of his health situation.

A lot of people feel the same way about Marshawn Lynch and this 2014 season.  There’s REALLY a lot of parallels, when you think about it.  Lynch and Watters are two of the toughest runners we’ve ever seen in a Seahawks uniform.  Both played for other teams before coming here.  Both have had rock-solid careers in Seattle and are beloved by Seahawks fans for their toughness and professionalism.  And, of course, both are/were being phased out by younger, highly-drafted backs with elite potential who mostly sat during their rookie seasons.  Nobody really wants to see Marshawn Lynch go, just like nobody really wanted to see Ricky Watters go.  But, what trumps that is the excitement over what’s possible.  Ricky Watters was great, but Shaun Alexander was even better – the best running back in franchise history.  Marshawn Lynch has played at an All Pro level in his time in Seattle, but Christine Michael JUST might be even better.

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the NFL, especially when you consider the talent that’s already on this team.

Maybe it won’t be a true running back by committee approach in 2014.  But, at the very least, I bet we see a reshuffling of the order.  Marshawn Lynch will probably start off the season as The Man, but Christine Michael is sure to get those secondary reps that would’ve gone to Turbin.  And, you have to figure, as the season goes on (assuming Michael doesn’t get bit by the fumble bug), Christine Michael will start getting more and more carries.

And, who knows?  Maybe a well-timed injury Wally Pipps Lynch’s tenure here in Seattle.  It’s not something I would ever wish on someone like him, but if it happens, it’s good to know we have someone right behind him who’s ready to handle the challenge and keep our offense humming at a championship level.

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