RENTON, Wash. – Justin Forsett sat at his locker preparing for practice when Deion Branch walked up to deliver his jersey for the day: a Seattle Seahawks logo “onesie.”
The mild-mannered Forsett couldn’t help but laugh at the piece of baby apparel. For the diminutive Forsett, it was a gesture that symbolized the same uphill climb he’s been dealing with his entire career.
He’s small. At 5-foot-8, 198 pounds he’s one of the smallest players on the Seahawks’ roster.
But despite his stature, Forsett has worked his way up from a twice-released, fringe NFL player to the Seahawks’ opening-day starter at running back.
“It feels good,” Forsett said. “Definitely ready to go out and show what I can do and be productive to the team when given the opportunity.”
Forsett was a long shot to make the Seahawks roster as a seventh-round draft pick out of California in 2008. He was buried on the roster behind incumbent Maurice Morris and free-agent acquisitions T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones.
An impressive preseason helped Forsett survive roster cutdowns and find a spot on the opening-day roster. The tenure was short-lived, however, as Seattle released Forsett after just one game with the team. He was claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts as a punt returner and spent the next four weeks with the Colts before being released once again.
He returned to Seattle when the Seahawks added him to their practice squad and then moved him to the active roster a week later.
Now he’s the opening- day starter for the Seahawks against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
“It’s amazing,” Forsett said. “It’s been a long journey, but everything happens for a reason. During that time, it gave me time to get prepared, get some experience. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was a blessing for me to go through that and I’m very happy to be here now as the starter.”
Forsett didn’t get a single regular-season carry in 2008. Last year, Morris moved on to Detroit and the team brought in Edgerrin James to try to provide the spark they were looking for at tailback. But instead it was Forsett who provided the pop.
Forsett averaged 5.4 yards a carry with a pair of 100-yard games and four touchdowns in limited action behind Jones. Forsett was also the team’s best receiving threat out of the backfield with 41 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown.
He has a knack for hiding behind his offensive line and has a burst that enables him to explode through the line and into the secondary in the blink of an eye.
“I used to judge a back on his size,” running backs coach Sherman Smith said. “Then this back in Jacksonville came along – Maurice Jones-Drew – he’s all right. Now there’s about 31 other teams in the league that would like to have him.”
Forsett trains with Jones-Drew in the offseason and has a similar knack for being able to avoid taking big hits from defenders. He can bounce through tackles and pick up extra yards without taking a pounding.
“Any back that takes a lot of clean shots is going to wear down,” Smith said. “But he doesn’t take a lot of clean shots. Plus we have Leon (Washington) and Julius to help carry the load so he doesn’t wear down.”
Washington and Jones will see considerable playing time on Sunday as coach Pete Carroll is opting for a running back-by-committee approach. Carroll said the competition is still wide open and that all the running backs will be involved, but at least this Sunday that first play will be Forsett’s.
“There’s no room to get comfortable or nothing like that,” Forsett said. “You’ve got to be able to fight and keep working and try to get better each day and that’s what it should be anyway. We’ve got great running backs here and we push each other and we’re just going to feed off each other. I’m excited to get an opportunity and when I get in I’ve got to make sure I’m doing well and make sure I’m helping the team.”
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said the team is leaning toward starting Tyler Polumbus over Chester Pitts at left tackle on Sunday. Polumbus would fill in for injured starter Russell Okung. Seattle traded for Polumbus last week. … Defensive end Raheem Brock (back), tight end Anthony McCoy (ankle) and Pitts (knee) were limited in practice Thursday.