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Seahawks’ running game has been stuck in neutral since Marshawn Lynch’s glory days

Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson  outruns a tackle attempt by Indianapolis Colts linebacker Skai Moore during the first half of a preseason game,  Aug. 9 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson outruns a tackle attempt by Indianapolis Colts linebacker Skai Moore during the first half of a preseason game, Aug. 9 in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

SEATTLE – Maybe it’s just the percentages of football catching up to the Seahawks.

“It’s an unfortunate part of the game,’’ Seahawks running backs coach Chad Morton said of injuries. “But it’s just a reality.”

One Morton has had to deal with more than he anticipated when he first began coaching that position with Seattle in 2015.

Then, when Morton first was assistant running backs coach before taking over as the head running backs coach in 2017, Seattle had as stable of a situation at tailback as could be.

From the time he was traded to the team four games in to the 2010 season through the 2014 season, Marshawn Lynch missed just one game because of injury, durability rare for any player but especially one who took – and more often delivered – the kind of punishment that he did.

But three games into the 2015 season Lynch suffered a hamstring injury, which set off a chain reaction of ailments at the position that hasn’t let up as the 2018 season approaches.

“A little snakebitten,’’ Morton said.

Already in 2018, three of who would be considered the team’s top five running backs have missed a game, or are going to, with injuries – first-round pick Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic.

The good news it that Prosise is back after missing the opener with a hip flexor, and Penny’s broken finger is healing quickly enough that he returned to do individual drills in practice this week and the team is expressing no concern that he’ll be ready for the start of the 2018 regular season Sept. 9 at Denver.

If McKissic returns on the short end of the 4-to-6 weeks he’s expected to be out with a broken foot suffered in practice Tuesday, then he might only miss a couple of regular-season games, as well.

Still, what has seemed like a steady drumbeat of injury news at the tailback position – even if mostly turning out better than originally feared – has dredged up bad memories of the past few years among fans.

While injuries aren’t the sole reason the Seahawks have had to start seven different tailbacks in the 43 games since Lynch was hurt against the Bears (not including Lynch, who returned later that season only to suffer a sports hernia injury that knocked him out longer), they have been the primary one.

It got so bad that in 2016 the Seahawks had 18 ballcarriers (including quarterbacks and receivers), the most in the NFL since the 1987 strike season.

Consider further that the Seahawks haven’t had a tailback start more than seven games in a season in any of the last three years.

Before that first happened in 2015 – when Thomas Rawls started seven games before suffering a broken ankle that ultimately derailed his Seahawks career – Seattle had had at least one tailback start eight or more games in every season since 1984 (the year Curt Warner went down in the first game of the year and things got so desperate that Seattle signed 34-year-old Franco Harris to start six games).

In all but one year since 1984 the Seahawks had one tailback start 10 or more games, a remarkable run that began with Warner in 1985 and included the lengthy tenures of Chris Warren, Ricky Watters, Shaun Alexander and Lynch.

To be sure, some of what’s happened to the Seahawks since has been tailbacks not able to do the job when it as handed to them, as in Eddie Lacy and Christine Michael.

But the Seahawks each of the last two seasons also entered the year thinking they had found their post-Lynch successor – Rawls (stress fracture) in 2016 and Chris Carson (broken ankle) in 2017 – only to see injuries quickly derail that plan.

Prosise – who midway through the 2016 season also was handed the baton – was injured in the second game he started, and has played just 11 of 32 games because of injury in two seasons.

Morton said he has no answers for why.

“It’s just all different types of things, which is crazy,’’ Morton said. “And it’s not like anything where it’s like they have been out of shape or anything and they are just pulling stuff. It’s just been unfortunate.’’

If you’re looking for the reason the Seahawks drafted Penny in the first round despite the presence of Carson – who has earned the starting job heading into the season – you need look no further than the tailback merry-go-round of the last three years.

Seattle was determined that this year, if and when injuries hit, they’d have enough running backs. If that leaves them with the question of how to divide up the carries, they’ll take dealing with that problem after too often not having enough tailbacks to go around the last few years.

“They’ve all been through ’em (injuries), unfortunately,’’ Morton said. “And that’s why it’s important now in this league to have more than one back. You can’t just rely on one guy anymore. You have to have at least two, maybe three. And that’s just part of it.’’


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