As the lead blocker out of the I-formation, former Husky Marcel Reece helped the Seahawks rush for 177 yards on 38 carries, the team’s second-highest rushing total of the season.
The final seconds ticked down in Saturday’s 26-6 wild-card playoff win over Detroit, Russell Wilson took one final kneel-down, then turned to fullback Marcel Reece.
“Here,’’ Wilson said, handing Reece the ball. “This one’s for you.’’
It was a present for Reece to commemorate the gift he had given the Seahawks all day — big holes as the lead blocker out of the I-formation, a scheme that proved a key to Seattle’s revived running game.
The Seahawks rushed for 177 yards on 38 carries, their second-highest rushing total of the season, with Thomas Rawls breaking a Seattle postseason record with 161 on 27 attempts.
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Seattle got 74 yards on 12 carries that came out of the traditional I-formation, with Reece as a fullback leading the way for Rawls (who got 68 yards on 10 carries out of the I-formation) and Alex Collins (6 yards on two attempts out of the I).
Reece played 33 snaps overall, the most for a Seattle fullback in a game this season. Seattle’s three fullbacks had played just 107 snaps in 16 regular-season games this season. And according to ESPN’s stats, Rawls had run out of the I-formation just seven times for 5 yards during the regular season.
But offensive-line coach Tom Cable said that wasn’t due to any intentional diminishing of the position. Instead, the Seahawks have been just looking for the right mix of player, timing and opponent to make it work.
“It makes the game kind of normal for us,’’ Cable said of being able to run out of the I. “That’s what we’ve been chasing, so we had the opportunity to do that.’’
Reece, who played primarily receiver at the University of Washington in 2006-07, was moved to fullback upon joining the Raiders in 2008. Cable was then the team’s offensive-line coach, later becoming head coach for 44 games from 2008-10, during which time he helped ease Reece’s transition to the position.
Reece was named to the Pro Bowl the last four years with the Raiders but was released in September after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Raiders had also signed fullback Jamize Olawale to a three-year extension.
The proliferation of spread offenses is making fullbacks something of a dying breed in the NFL (official NFL stats list 15 as getting carries this season). So after his release, Reece stayed at his home in the Bay Area and waited for the phone to ring. And waited.
Seattle, which had Will Tukuafu manning the position at the time, called in the 31-year-old Reece for a workout in late November (he also had one with the Bears) to get a sense of Reece’s conditioning, just in case. The timing proved prescient when Tukuafu suffered a concussion the following week and was eventually placed on season-ending injured reserve.
“I knew it would come,’’ Reece said of another opportunity. “We were in communication with different people and different things, and I knew it would come eventually. I always had faith, and I knew at some point in time I was going to make the decision and it was going to be the right team for me. And this was it.’’
Indeed, it brought him back to a familiar setting, as well as an offense he knew well, thanks to Cable’s influence in Seattle’s running game.
Reece’s receiving background also makes him a threat to catch the ball and that’s where he made his biggest impact in his first four games with the Seahawks, with five receptions for 72 yards, as well as a two-point catch against Arizona.
But last week was different, with Reece mostly putting on his blocking shoes.
Cable said one key was Reece’s ability to understand which defenders to attack. Cable said the team espouses what it calls “the pizza theory’’ for lead blockers and understanding which spots the blockers have to fill based on how the defense is moving.
“If you take my piece of pizza, I’ll take yours,’’ Cable said. “… he’s basically a runner without the ball, so you are really telling (the tailback) where you would go if you have the football.’’
Seattle’s first run out of the I formation Saturday led to a 14-yard Rawls gain. Others resulted in gains of 8, 12 and then 26 in the first half as the Seahawks took control on the ground.
Many came after Reece was hurt in the first quarter when his foot was stepped on. Reece initially feared the foot was broken, but he was able to play through it and expects to be all right this week.
“It was a rough one,’’ Reece said. “But there was no way I was coming out. I was going to do everything I can to help the team, and that was that.’’
The game was also the first postseason contest of Reece’s career and came with his mother, Valerie Scott, in the stands.
In fact, it was his mother’s birthday, which led to a little bit of a conundrum for Reece afterward about what to do with the ball given to him by Wilson.
“My mom thought it was coming to her for her birthday,’’ he said. “But I think that one is going in the man cave.’’