RENTON – Of the many changes in the approach and schemes of the 2009 Seattle Seahawks offense, one of the biggest examples wears a No. 44 jersey.
T.J. Duckett, a 6-foot, 254-pound tailback in a fullback’s body, finished last season with a sparse 62 carries and 172 yards. With a backfield filled with options, Duckett’s role was limited to short-yardage and goal-line situations.
But in the early practices of Training Camp 2009, Duckett is being handed the ball with greater frequency in the regular scheme – and he’s repeatedly responded with jaunts through the line and into the secondary.
So, fans, you’ll see a lot more of T.J. Duckett. And I’d wager you’ll like what you see out of a humble player, one eager to play whatever role will best suit the team, and a man who is focused on community involvement and the fight against cancer – the disease that took his mother nine years ago.
With backs Mo Morris and Leonard Weaver no longer on the roster, Duckett’s role will expand. Not hurting his cause is his connection with new head coach Jim Mora, who coached Duckett in Atlanta early in his career when he rushed for 31 touchdowns in four seasons and averaged just fewer than 4 yards per carry.
“T.J. can come in and hammer people,” Mora said. “Over the course of his career, he has really improved as a blocker, which allows you to leave him in there in more situations.”
Mora couldn’t help but comment on Duckett’s imposing physique. “He looks fantastic; for a man that big, he’s cut up, and he’s in great shape.”
Duckett isn’t bashful about practicing with his jersey pulled up to bare abdominals that look like a stack of rocks, or rolling up jersey sleeves to show biceps that are the size of ham shanks.
“God blessed me,” said Duckett, who wore No. 45 and No. 42 last year but will show up as No. 44 in the ’09 Seahawks program.
When discussing athleticism, some of Duckett’s achievements are hard to believe. In one high school track meet in Michigan, Duckett threw the shot put 67 feet and then ran the 100 meters in 10.6 seconds.
That combination of explosive power and speed is so rare in a high school athlete that it has a name: Uh … T.J. Duckett.
Duckett averaged 5.2 yards a carry despite limited action for Detroit in 2007, but when he arrived in Seattle last season, his role was solely as a short-yardage conversion specialist.
Nobody heard a word of complaint out of Duckett.
“Of course you want to make plays and get the ball down the field,” Duckett said. “But it’s a team game, and last year we had a lot of backs and I played my role. I came to work and did my job.”
Yes, but now …?
“Yes, I like this … it’s fun to get more opportunities,” he said. “But I’m not a stats guy at all … I’m a win-loss kind of guy.”
Duckett said he talked in the offseason with Mora and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who also coached him in Atlanta.
“They said there definitely would be more opportunities for me to run the ball. When we were in Atlanta, it was me and Warrick (Dunn). I did the short-yardage and goal-line stuff, but I was also in the flow of the game quite a bit.”
Duckett calls himself a “blue-collar” player focused on doing his job. But he’s hardly limited to action on the football field.
Duckett’s mother, Jacquelyn Barham, kept up her work as a special ed teacher and never told her children about her fight with non-Hodgkins lymphoma for six years.
“When I was 9 or 10, my mother had it and she didn’t tell anybody,” Duckett said. “She’d come home from work all tired. She had long hair and then all of a sudden she came home with braids. She was bragging about her ‘new ’do,’ but as I look back, it was because her hair was falling out and she didn’t want us to know about it.”
After pushing it into remission, the cancer returned and claimed her while Duckett was in college.
Her name is tattooed on the inside of his right bicep. The cancer ribbon is inked on his left forearm. And the memory is so deep in his heart he still chokes up when asked to talk about her.
So, he pours himself into the TD Foundation (www.TJDuckett.org), which funds programs for the children of cancer patients, and provides diversions for women patients, such as spa days … anything that might help them feel good for at least a short time.
Really, he’s trying to do for other patients the loving things he never could do for his mother.
The most visible manifestation of his commitment can be seen through his facemask.
Duckett doesn’t shave after the start of camp, and cuts off his beard at the end of the season as a money-maker to fund cancer research.
“Some people grow their hair for the Locks of Love,” said the bald Duckett. “But I can’t do that … so I grow the beard. That raises some money, and hopefully it raises awareness.”
Awareness of Duckett will be raised as he assumes a bigger role this season. And as you watch him, it might be good to remember all the other things he brings to this team and community.