Renton – Julius Jones understands the drill.
He left the Dallas Cowboys three years ago in free agency once they became more enamored with bruising running back Marion Barber. And now, after two seasons of lukewarm play with the Seattle Seahawks, the 28-year old runner is in a dead heat with spark plug Justin Forsett.
But Jones, who wouldn’t have it any other way, is approaching 2010 as if he will be the Seahawks’ starting tailback for the third straight season.
“Always, man,” Jones said, when asked about being the lead dog. “Every running back has that mentality. I know I do. I’ve had that ever since I’ve been playing, and I will continue to have that.”
But the question remains: Who will be Seattle’s starting running back in coach Pete Carroll’s first season with the team?
One person scratched off that list is LenDale White, whom the Seahawks waived a little over a week ago. Carroll said White’s release was a football decision, and that he was not a good fit for the team. White was considered the frontrunner to win the job.
“It was just time to move ahead,” Carroll said. “I think he needs to go somewhere else and find a spot. It wasn’t going to be here and that’s it.”
As far as who will be the starting running back, Carroll again referenced his central theme of competition, pointing out the Seahawks don’t play a meaningful game for another three months.
“We are leaving this thing wide open,” he said. “There is no reason to call it. Julius has done everything he needs to do to represent. He has done a beautiful job so far. Justin (Forsett) continues to do really well, too. I love the way he is showing out here. Those guys are certainly in the 1-2 spots. Whoever is first – it doesn’t really matter to me right now. I can’t tell and I don’t care. Right now we are just playing football.”
Jones is in the third year of a four-year, $12 million deal that will pay him $2.45 million this season.
He was signed by former team president Tim Ruskell to replace an aging Shaun Alexander.
In two seasons Jones certainly has not made fans forget the former league MVP, rushing for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns for an average of a little over four yards a carry.
In two seasons, Jones has rushed for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns.
But Jones is only partially to blame for his lack of production. In Jones’ first season in Seattle, when he had fumbling issues, former coach Mike Holmgren chose to play Maurice Morris instead. And last year Jones ran behind a patchwork offensive line with six different starting combinations bogged down by the team’s switch to a zone blocking scheme.
Still, Jones understands more was expected of him. Seattle hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005, one of only four teams with that dubious distinction.
“I feel comfortable in this offense,” Jones said. “With the zone scheme, I think everybody made a big deal about that last year, asking the players what they think about it and how does it work.
“I just do what the coaches tell me to do. I’m not good at explaining how it works. My job is to make first downs and score touchdowns. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Jones and Forsett have been splitting time with the first unit during offseason workouts. Forsett, heading into his third season, showed flashes of being an every-down back last season. He started two games when Jones was out with a bruised lung, and finished with 619 yards on 114 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and four touchdowns.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better situation,” Forsett said. “I’m getting an opportunity and everybody’s fighting for the job. It’s open competition, and every time you get competition everybody’s level is going to rise a little bit. We’re getting better every day and fighting every day, so it’s going well.”
Newcomer Leon Washington, who is expected to be ready for training camp after suffering a gruesome leg injury last season with the New York Jets, likely will be a factor in who starts at running back.
Carroll also had good things to say about UW Huskies product Louis Rankin. And free agent pickup Quinton Ganther, who played for Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith in Washington, has been a pleasant surprise, with his ability to play fullback.
“I’m one of those guys that will do things that the other guys don’t want to do,” Ganther said. “You tell me to run down on kickoffs and hit the wedge, and I’ll do it. You tell me to get in there at fullback, that’s what I’ll do because I’m a team player, not a me player.”
The Seahawks reportedly have shown interest in Buffalo running back Marshawn Lynch, who has fallen out of favor with the Bills. Lynch could fill the short-yardage role slated for White.
But for now, Carroll appears satisfied with his team’s depth at running back.
“I’m pumped about it,” Carroll said. “There is not a position on this football team right now that isn’t competing; they are battling. These guys have taken to it. Julius (Jones) understands, we’ve talked about that it is going to be competitive and he welcomed the thought of that. I think it’s even elevated his attention to it. These guys are not sitting back relaxing right now. They are working hard. They are really trying to make a statement for themselves and that helps our football team.”