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Alexander runs harder as he may run away

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

SEATTLE – Having watched Shaun Alexander reverse field before, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see him do it so spectacularly on Sunday afternoon.

Except that this time he did it with a football in his hand.

Ba-da-bing.

Poor Shaun. He’ll never quite outrun some of the eye-rolling hereabouts, the stabbed-in-the-back jokes, the insinuations that his smile and smooth magnanimity are less than sincere, and that for his many athletic gifts yet other aspects of his game have gone ignored or undeveloped.

He’ll never outrun the notion that he should be more, but also sometimes less.

Unless maybe you give him a few more games like the 37-12 pasting Seattle laid on the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, in which the Seahawks running back ran for 140 yards and four touchdowns – along with the day’s “SportsCenter” play – and was definitely first among Seahawks equals.

But even Alexander doesn’t know how many of these games he has left in a Seahawks uniform.

“It’s not motivation,” said Alexander, who signed a one-year $6.32 million contract in the off-season with Seattle’s “franchise player” tag but can become an unrestricted free agent if he and the club don’t come to terms on a multiyear contract. “It is what it is.

“My wife and I have talked, ‘Wow, this could be our last year in Seattle,’ and we just look at the same thing – let’s give everybody something to cheer about. Let’s make it big.”

It was Alexander himself who broached the subject of his impending – OK, probable – separation from the Seahawks in his post-game briefing, and just why this was necessary in the glow of such a dominant performance this early in a season of possibility is a mystery only Alexander himself can unravel.

Maybe it simply is what it is, and he is who he is.

Which, with a football in his hands, is something pretty special – four straight seasons of 1,100 yards or more rushing, 23 100-yard games and the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, a number that grew substantially on a glorious day at Qwest Field.

But the run that sent the paying house of 64,843 home atwitter wasn’t the 25-yard sweep behind guards Steve Hutchinson and Chris Gray that produced the game’s first touchdown or any of the 1-yard scores that followed.

It was the sleight-of-foot – and hips – act Alexander pulled off in the third quarter, with the game pretty much won already.

This time, Alexander headed right behind fullback Mack Strong and quickly found it to be a lost cause. Somehow, he managed to pivot away from Arizona defensive end Chike Okeafor – a former teammate with a similar unfortunate tendency to say the wrong thing – and took off in the other direction. He picked up a nice block from receiver Bobby Engram and it wasn’t until 45 yards later that free safety Robert Griffith ran him down.

“It was just a great read by their defense,” said Seahawks tackle Sean Locklear. “The safety came down and pressed it. Shaun saw it and made a good read out of it. I’m thinking he might get 1 or 2 yards or get back to the line of scrimmage, but he just made a great run out of it.”

But Alexander also knew that “I was probably breaking all the rules of everything I’ve ever been taught.

“Arizona just overran the play. Their defensive tackles were getting hooked in. I really just wanted to stop and turn around and try to get upfield. Then I looked to my left and I saw Bobby and I said, ‘OK, let’s see what we’ve got here’ – and then I thought this could be a long touchdown run.

“Then I realized I was out of shape.”

It was one of those worth-the-price-of-admission plays – the kind football fans want to see from their heartthrobs every game, though it’s unrealistic.

“You can’t go to that well too often,” warned center Robbie Tobeck. “About once a year you’ll see a running back reverse field like that and make some money at it, though.”

Three games into the season, the Seahawks are certainly money – as they were at this stage a year ago before it was made counterfeit. But Alexander is running better, and harder, than he did last year. Indeed, for all the play his reverse-field run will get, more impressive was the 4-yarder a week earlier when he rammed over Atlanta’s Bryan Scott for a much-needed first down.

“We know early on, we might only be getting 2 or 3 yards on a run,” said Strong, for 11 years the guard dog of Seattle’s running backs. “We know that going into the game, and Shaun does a great job of not getting discouraged – because you know every time he touches the ball he wants to score. But he’s running extremely hard, taking the plays as they come and eventually the big ones will be there.

“I think everybody sees that he’s running harder. It’s the reason he’s able to pop some long runs, because teams are putting more defenders in the box trying to stop him and he has the great vision to be able to pick up that outside block and find some room.”

Considering how the 2004 season ended and the events of the off-season, Alexander’s apparently energized approach is a bit of an eyebrows-up. There was, remember, the last-game blast that he’d been “stabbed in the back” when coach Mike Holmgren called for a quarterback sneak for the game-winning touchdown against Atlanta and cost Alexander the NFL rushing title in doing so. And when quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and tackle Walter Jones agreed to long-term, big-money contracts and Alexander was left to accept the franchise-player designation – even for just a year – he could have been expected to pout.

Or to play that much harder – in order to sell himself somewhere else.

Alexander insisted that neither is the case.

“I don’t think it’s different than any other year,” he said.

“We just changed some of our packages. Everybody knows this could be my last year here and they’re paying attention to everything.”

Well, it certainly sounds as if it’s his last year here.

“Hey, everybody knows me,” Alexander said. “Hopefully, it isn’t. But it what it is.”

Of course, this was a man who’d just turned a no-gain into a 45-yard highlight clip. Sometimes, it isn’t what it is.

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