Without Alexander, what can Seahawks expect from backfield?

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I take a look at what the Seattle Seahawks’ backfield situation will be like this year without Shaun Alexander.

For the past eight seasons, Shaun Alexander has carried the Seattle Seahawks’ running game. But after years of being the Hawks’ rock in the backfield, Alexander succumbed to injuries in 2006 and 2007, which ultimately led to his release in April of this year. Free agents Julius Jones (Cowboys) and T.J. Duckett (Lions) were signed this offseason to compete with Maurice Morris to be Alexander’s replacement.

In four seasons with Dallas, Jones rushed for 3,484 yards on 885 carries (65.7 yards per game) and 18 touchdowns. Over the last two seasons, he split carries with Marion Barber, who often stole Jones’ touchdown opportunities when the Cowboys reached the goal line.

Duckett spent the last two years in Washington and Detroit after sharing a backfield with Warrick Dunn in Atlanta from 2002 to 2005. He was hobbled by nagging injuries most of last year, but he did rush for 102 yards on 15 carries in the Lions’ Week 16 victory over the Chiefs, flashing the kind of speed and power that made him a first round draft pick in 2002.

While splitting time with Alexander last year, Morris finished with 628 yards on 140 carries and four touchdowns in 2007. Until Jones and Duckett were signed, Morris was the favorite to start for Seattle, and still might be.

A potential sleeper candidate that could emerge is 2008 sixth round pick Justin Forsett, who rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown in the Seahawks’ second preseason game against the Bears. Forsett showed decent power running between the tackles and excellent quickness when he saw daylight. He was also effective on kick returns as well, and while one preseason game doesn’t make or break a player, Duckett might be on the outs if Forsett continues to flash this kind of potential.

Can Jones, Morris or Duckett/Forsett carry the Seahawks’ running game this year? All indications out of Seattle this summer have been that the Seahawks will go with a running back-by-committee in 2008. All three of these backs can be effective in doses, but none has shown the capabilities to carry a rushing load on their own. (Although in fairness to Jones, he did rush for 1,084 yards on 267 carries in 2006, which was good for a 4.1 YPC average.)

Seattle was so effective when Alexander was carrying the ball 300-plus times a year, so it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Mike Holmgren uses his backfield this season. There’s no question that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has mastered Holmgren’s West Coast Offense, but will the running back-by-committee work or will one back have to emerge for the Seahawks to make a Super Bowl run this year? The results have been mixed so far in preseason and although the NFC West once again appears to be Seattle’s for the taking, one has to wonder if their backfield situation will cost the Seahawks a chance to make a deep run in 2008.

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