The differences are subtle, but they are there. Perhaps a little more swagger for a guy who seems to always have plenty of it. Maybe a few more smiles for a guy who already smiled pretty easily.
More important, you can see it on the field. There’s a willingness to rip through a would-be tackler with more violence and force. There’s a desire to sprint just a few yards farther and a willingness to exert energy in even the most mundane of drills.
Make no mistake, there are differences in Julius Jones from this year to last, and all of them are good.
Entering his second season with the Seahawks, Jones came into training camp with a slightly different role with a slightly different coaching staff, leading to a slightly different outlook on his situation.
A year ago, he came in with the fanfare of a free agent. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to save the running game, but he was supposed to be on the better side of serviceable. Instead, Jones never really distinguished himself in the eyes of the then-head coach Mike Holmgren and Seahawks fans.
Jones rushed for 698 yards and two touchdowns on 158 carries, while “splitting” time with Maurice Morris, who rushed for 574 yards on 132 tries.
Perhaps more frustrating for Jones were the lengthy periods of sitting on the sideline when Morris would play, including being benched as the starter five different times by Holmgren.
It wasn’t exactly what the Seahawks, or Jones, had in mind when he signed with Seattle. The team wanted a workhorse with some explosion and big-play ability, and Jones, who split time with Marion Barber in Dallas, was looking to be a featured back who got the bulk of the carries. Neither side came away satisfied.
But this year feels different. It’s almost like a new start. Morris left for the Detroit Lions in free agency, leaving little question that Jones will be the starter. Holmgren is taking a sabbatical from football, and new coach Jim Mora has brought in a new style of offense with a zone-blocking run scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
And Jones? He’s embracing the changes and is motivated to prove himself.
“I’m trying to put that behind me,” Jones said of last season. “I feel 10 times better going into this season.”
Why? Jones wouldn’t go into specifics, but it’s easy to see that not being on the short list for Holmgren’s doghouse does help.
“I just feel more comfortable, more at ease, and I feel like the coaches have a little bit more confidence in me,” Jones said.
He isn’t exactly pointing fingers at Holmgren. He knows he’s at fault, as well.
“What happened last year happened,” he said. “This is a brand new year. Coach Mora’s got this team right where we need to be, and I’m excited to play for him.”
Then there’s Knapp’s zone-blocking run scheme that has Jones excited. It’s simple, yet effective for the runners.
“It’s one cut and go,” Jones said. “There’s not too many decisions you’ve got to make; either you go outside or you take one cut and get downhill. You can’t really fail.”
The only way to fail is to be impatient and not let the play develop. Jones and the other running backs are starting to get better at doing that.
“In the zone scheme, there’s an element of patience and then burst, and it looks like all of them are starting to get the feel for being patient and then putting their foot in the ground and one cut and go,” Mora said. “It’s a work in progress. It takes a while. They have to learn how to work with their offensive line, with the tight ends, when to make the cut, the timing. But it appears that they’re getting a feel for it.”
Beyond the cuts, the reads and the understanding, there’s something more important for Jones. It’s the knowledge that he will be the featured back. T.J. Duckett will handle short-yardage and goal-line situations. Justin Forsett will be a change-of-pace guy who can be used to spell him, but Jones will be getting the bulk of carries. What he does with them is up to him.
“This is a special year for Julius,” running backs coach Casey Dunn said. “He knows it. We all know it. He needs to play well for us.”
Jones has embraced the opportunity.
“He’s certainly raised his level from last season,” Dunn said. “He’s one of those guys that thrive on a challenge, and the challenge for him is to have a real explosive season and help us win ballgames.”
Jones has never lacked confidence in himself. But knowing his coaches have enough confidence in him to make him “the guy” has been given Jones an added boost. Mora can see it making a difference.
“Any time with a player when you tell him, ‘You’re the guy. You’re the starting running back, here’s the ball. Go do the best you can with it,’ I think that if they’re competitors – and he’s a competitor – that’s what they want to hear,” Mora said. “It gives them confidence. I think we’re seeing that with Julius.”
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Curry still a no-show
Another day of camp, another day without Aaron Curry, the Seahawks’ still-unsigned top draft pick. But those waiting for Jim Mora to become outwardly upset over the situation will have to keep waiting.
“You may not believe it, but I don’t think about him every day,” Mora said. “I don’t go, ‘When’s Aaron going to be here?’ I don’t worry about it. When he gets here, he gets here, and we’ll go to work.”
At some point, though, Mora will have to start thinking about not having him in every day. He did say it was “helpful” having veterans such as D.D. Lewis and Lance Laury and the steadily improving Will Herring as insurance, making him less concerned.
Wide receiver Deion Branch missed the evening practice with a sore left knee – the same one he had offseason surgery on and ACL surgery on two seasons ago. Having Branch sit out was more of a precaution, particularly with Seattle going on four days worth of practices.
Tackle Walter Jones missed both practices with a sore back, as did cornerback Marcus Trufant. Jones has been working out before practice and Mora believes he’s improving. Trufant was said to be “making progress.”
Wide receiver Billy McMullen (knee) missed both practices.
Linebacker Tony Taylor, who had been sidelined with knee troubles, was waived by the Seahawks with the designation of being injured. To replace him, Seattle signed former Western Washington linebacker and Kentlake grad Shane Simmons to a contract.
Simmons participated in the April minicamp on a tryout basis and was in training camp last season with the Oakland Raiders.
Simmons was a News Tribune All-Area selection in 2003, and signed with Idaho originally. He played one season as a true freshman before transferring to Western, where he twice earned All-America honors.
“I don’t necessarily think that for Lofa it’s about his performance. It’s about the team winning and playing good defense. I’m sure he’s motivated to be a great player, but I think he’s also motivated to be a part of a great defense and a great football team. It’s one of the things that makes him special: it’s not just about Lofa, it’s about the team.” – Mora, on what motivates linebacker Lofa Tatupu.
Ryan Divish, The News Tribune