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Start rolling: Seattle Seahawks need to get ground game going to find way back to Super Bowl contention

They can run, but they can’t save their hides.

OK, well maybe Russell Wilson can – running is all that’s saved his in the past two seasons as quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.

But remember how revered – and feared – the Seattle running game once was? So much so that when Pete Carroll called for the fateful pass from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch for the win, he was ridiculed and roasted – barstool sport that continues to this day.

It will forever remain the longest yard for the Seahawks – the one that stood between them and beating the Patriots for a second straight title.

But on a practical level, the longest yard is the next one they need and try to get by handing off to their dubious collection of running backs, behind their even more dubious offensive line.

Carroll vowed in the off-season that things would improve – but then, they could hardly get worse. Yes, the Seahawks ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing in 2017 – but 440 of their 1,629 yards came from Wilson scrambling for his life on broken-down pass plays. No other team got so little from its running backs – a scant 62 yards per game.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Seahawks went for Rashaad Penny of San Diego State on draft day – with the hope that he’ll deliver in the same vein as Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander, the only other two running backs Seattle has taken in Round 1. There’s also Chris Carson, who showed promise last year – not unlike Thomas Rawls before him, and we know what a cautionary tale he became.

No wonder, either, that offensive line coach Tom Cable was shown the door – Carroll wanting to diversify, apparently, from the zone-heavy blocking schemes – and some actual money invested in guys like Duane Brown and Justin Britt, the best elements of Seattle’s heretofore bargain-basement line.

Will it work? It has to – even if it’s just one yard at a time.

CAST

Offense: Running game or no, the offense is style-hyper-dependent on both the arms and legs of Wilson, though you’d think he’d be content to let Penny or Carson get the hardest yards after being only the second quarterback since 2000 to lead his team in rushing. Wilson tied his career high with 34 touchdown passes in 2017; he also had his lowest completion percentage (61.3) and lost the most yardage to sacks. So there’s plenty of room for fine-tuning.

The misbegotten experiment that was tight end Jimmy Graham is over, and replacement hire Ed Dickson missed the whole preseason with a non-football injury. That figures to put more of the burden back on wideouts Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett – and maybe even Brandon Marshall, trying to resurrect a career.

But none of it goes without major improvement up front. Having Brown full-time at left tackle is a start. Just as big of a key is getting something – or cutting bait – on Germain Ifedi, whose many performance issues forced the Seahawks to throw George Fant into a competition with him at right tackle.

Defense: Look, everybody – it’s the “Legion of Where Did Everyone Go?” Whether due to age, injury or mouths that made management uncomfortable, the defensive core that pried open the Super Bowl window – Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril – all but vanished in the offseason. And safety Earl Thomas is now holding out for his final big contract.

Who’s left? Bobby Wagner, one of the best linebackers in the game, and his running mate K.J. Wright. And really, that’s about it.

Carroll and Co. are plugging some holes with youngsters like Jarran Reed and Rasheem Green up front and Shaquill Griffin and Tedric Thompson on the back end, and hope to get some production from castoffs like Tom Johnson and Barkevious Mingo. The Seahawks’ defense slipped enough in 2017 to show it was aging, but now it looks more like patchwork – though patching things up with Thomas would be a nice Band-Aid.

Special teams: The all-business nature of the NFL was laid bare again when the club punted away veteran Jon Ryan, one of the more beloved characters in franchise history. That’ll give the Seahawks one rookie – Aussie Michael Dickson – and warhorse placekicker Sebastian Janikowski as all-new specialists. Dickson, in particular, could be a spectacular weapon; Janikowski must show he can still boot kickoffs into touchback territory. Lockett’s available for runbacks, though he seemed decidedly less dangerous on punt returns last season, so look for David Moore to get some chances.

CREW

Coaching: Pete Carroll finishes his first decade on the job in Seattle in a place not all that different from where he started, other than with a quarterback in his prime. We’ll see if his message is resonating more with his remade roster than it was with the old veterans.

His post-season shakeup wasn’t limited to players. There are new coordinators – Brian Schottenheimer on offense, old protégé Ken Norton Jr. on defense – after Carroll fired eight assistants, including offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and O-line coach Tom Cable, saying he “just felt it was time.” He got no argument from the fan base.

SPOILER ALRET

Face it: the Seahawks have been in a downward spiral – not a nosedive – ever since Pete Carroll decided not to give Marshawn Lynch the ball on the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX. Missing the playoffs last year wasn’t the crash; that occurred in the off-season when franchise icons Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor were either moved out or medically retired – while Earl Thomas launched a bitter holdout. Pete Carroll will try to reset with a roster that mixes a few holdover stars – Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Doug Baldwin – with what seems like spare parts in too many cases. They’re not prison guards and inmates, exactly – but they’re not the Mean Machine, either.


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