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Mailbag: Will Seahawks keep four running backs, and what will they do with them?

Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III carries the football last season. Walker has not practiced at training camp due to a groin issue.  (Getty Images)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

The Seahawks have completed their first week of OTAs, or organized team activities, which is a fancy, and mostly legalistic, term for practices held in the offseason.

After conducting three practices last week, they are scheduled to be on the field for three more this week, beginning Tuesday.

A little break makes it the perfect time to answer some questions from the Seahawks Twitter mailbag (with some questions edited for clarity). So let’s get to it.

Q: Do you expect Seattle to carry four RBs (running backs)? Or do you expect Seattle to ask (Zach) Charbonnet and (Kenny) McIntosh to compete for the same job? Or both be used?

A: I think running back is a cut-and-dried position heading into camp as I do think the Seahawks will keep four on the 53-man roster – veterans Kenneth Walker III and DeeJay Dallas and draft picks Charbonnet and McIntosh.

I think the first three are locks, with the only intrigue being if someone made a run at McIntosh for the final spot, but I think it’d take a lot for him not to make it. The only other two RBs on the roster are undrafted rookie free agent Chris Smith and veteran free agent Bryant Koback.

The Seahawks have usually kept four on the 53, with at least two needing to be significant special-teams players. Dallas has been a key special-teams players his three years with the Seahawks, and Charbonnet and McIntosh look like they can do it, as well (and not just as return players but also in coverage).

McIntosh will have to show he can take on a significant special-teams role in case the team uses Charbonnet in a major ball-carrying role.

Walker and Rashaad Penny, for instance, didn’t do special teams last year, leaving it all to Dallas and Travis Homer.

Charbonnet most likely projects as the second, or complementary, back behind Walker. And his status as a second-round pick means that logically, it would take a lot to dislodge him from that role. Early returns from rookie minicamp and OTAs are that Charbonnet is exactly what they thought he was.

That leaves Dallas and McIntosh likely vying for the third-down, two-minute role and for depth.

Q: I think I need a better understanding of the defensive scheme compared to the linebacker corps. I feel like we lost more than we gained, but maybe that’s simply due to me not understanding the scheme sufficiently. Do we still need another inside LB?

A: Not really. While space doesn’t permit getting too in-the-weeds on their defensive scheme, the easy answer is that what the Seahawks have tried to tweak defensively hasn’t changed the numbers needed at inside linebacker.

Last year, the Seahawks changed from a base 4-3 defense – four down linemen (tackles and ends) and three linebackers – to a base 3-4, three down linemen and four linebackers.

The Seahawks still employ two inside linebackers – often called “off-ball” linebackers, meaning players who line up behind the defensive line (hence the term linebackers).

The other two linebackers in the 3-4 are outside linebackers, who flank the line of scrimmage. In a 3-4, there are two outside linebackers, as opposed to one in a 4-3 (in both, there are basically five on the line and two off the line in the front seven).

The two inside backers for years in the Seahawks’ defense were Bobby Wagner in the middle and K.J. Wright next to him at what is called the weak-side linebacker spot, or typically lining up on the side where there is not a tight end (the strong side is where there is a tight end).

Last year, with Wagner gone, Jordyn Brooks was the middle linebacker with Cody Barton on the weak side. When Brooks was injured against the Jets on Jan. 1, Barton moved to the middle and Tanner Muse took over on the weak side.

Barton (Washington) and Muse (Steelers) moved on in free agency. But in their place, the Seahawks re-signed Wagner and signed free agent Devin Bush, who was with the Steelers.

With Brooks still in rehab mode from his ACL injury, Wagner has been working as the starting middle linebacker in OTAs with Bush on the weak side.

Brooks will be back at some point, maybe not for the start of the season, but the team is optimistic.

The Seahawks also have backup ILBs third-year player Jon Rhattigan, who filled in for Wagner in the middle Thursday with the starters when he was taking a break, and second-year player Vi Jones, who can play the weak side (and wears the same No. 50 Wright did for years).

Also back is Nick Bellore, whose main function is special teams – he’s been a captain the last two years. Bellore has 12 career linebacker starts with the 49ers in 2016 and 2017 and has played a few snaps for the Seahawks there.

So numbers-wise, that’s the same depth they had inside last year.

And it can obviously be argued that bringing back Wagner to team with Bush and Brooks – each recent first-round picks – gives them a deeper trio to head the inside LB corps than it had heading into last season.

Q: Would (Julian) Love and (Jamal) Adams be on the field at the same time? What would that look like? I assume they play the same (position)?

A: Yes, they definitely could, just in the same way that the Seahawks used Ryan Neal alongside Adams and Quandre Diggs as a third safety.

The simplest way to explain how it would look is that the third safety takes the spot of the weak-side linebacker.

In 2021, the Seahawks inserted Neal as a third safety, taking out Brooks to move Adams up to weak-side linebacker, getting him closer to the line of scrimmage to rush the quarterback.

That year against Jacksonville, in which there were 76 defensive snaps, Adams played all 76 (as did Diggs) while Brooks played 55 and Neal 21.

On those 21 snaps, the Seahawks had three safeties and one player whose official position was inside linebacker (Wagner). Adams was the other linebacker, with Neal as the other safety alongside Diggs.

The Seahawks planned to make that look – using Adams as the weak-side linebacker – a significant part of the defense last year before he suffered a quadriceps injury.

What the signing of Love does is provide a hedge in case Adams doesn’t make it back for week one, and also allows the Seahawks to not have to use him for every snap right out of the gate.

If all goes well and Adams is full-go week one, expect to see a lot of three-safety looks with Diggs, Adams and Love all on the field at the same time and probably most often with Adams playing a de facto linebacker role.