The Seahawks haven't had a running back start more than seven games in a season since 2014, a trend they hope they can break.
Maybe it’s just the percentages of football catching up to the Seahawks. But it’s undeniable that the running back position has been hit by a disproportionate number of injuries in the past four seasons.
“It’s an unfortunate part of the game,’’ Seahawks running backs coach Chad Morton says of this rash of injuries. “But it’s just a reality.”
Morton has had to deal with more injuries than he anticipated when he first started working with the Seahawks’ running backs as the assistant running backs coach in 2015. (Morton became head running backs coach in 2017.)
Since 2015, Seattle has started eight running backs and lost seven running backs to injury. Already in 2018, three of the team’s top five running backs have missed a game, or are going to, due to injuries — first-round pick Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Commentary: Even if Nick Rolovich’s lawsuit is successful, WSU comes out ahead. The saga is over
- After $1.15 billion renovation, Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena 'will surprise people in the greatest way'
- UW Huskies go from rock bottom to rare road win with 21-16 comeback victory over Arizona
- The Huskies avoided utter embarrassment by salvaging win over Arizona. But long-term issues remain.
- Analysis: Nick Rolovich’s firing by WSU has consequences, and not just for him
It’s a stark contrast to the stability Seattle enjoyed at tailback in the years prior to Morton’s tenure. That stability, of course, was thanks to the steadying force who was Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch was traded to the Seahawks four games into the 2010 season, and from his first game as a Seahawk, through the 2014 season, he missed just one game due to injury. That sort of durability is rare for any player, but particularly for one who took — and more often delivered — the kind of punishment that he did.
However, three games into the 2015 season, Lynch suffered a hamstring injury, which set off a chain reaction of ailments at the position that hasn’t let up as the 2018 season approaches.
The Seahawks running backs seem “a little snakebitten,’’ Morton says with a resigned laugh.
He’s trying to look on the bright side, though.
The good news is that Prosise is back after missing the opener with a hip flexor, and Penny’s broken finger is healing quickly enough that he resumed individual drills in practice this week and the team believes he’ll be ready for the 2018 regular season opener Sept. 9 at Denver.
And if McKissic returns on the short end of the 4-6-weeks he’s expected to be out with a broken foot suffered in practice Tuesday, then he might only miss a couple of regular season games as well.
Still, a steady drumbeat of injury news at the tailback position has dredged up bad memories of the past few years among fans.
Injuries are the primary reason why the Seahawks have had to start seven different tailbacks in the 43 games since Lynch was hurt against the Bears. (Though, that doesn’t include Lynch, who returned later that season only to suffer a sports hernia injury that knocked him out longer).
It got so bad that in 2016, the Seahawks had 18 different ball carriers (including quarterbacks and receivers) — the most in the NFL since the 1987 strike season.
Also, a Seahawks tailback hasn’t started more than seven games in a season in any of the past three years.
Before that first happened in 2015, when Thomas Rawls started seven games before suffering a broken ankle that ultimately derailed his Seahawks career. Seattle had at least one tailback start eight or more games in every season since 1984. That was the year Curt Warner went down in the first game and things got so desperate that Seattle signed 34-year-old Franco Harris to start six games.
In all but one year since 1984, the Seahawks had one tailback start 10 or more games — a remarkable run that began with Warner in 1985, and included the lengthy tenures of Chris Warren, Ricky Watters, Shaun Alexander and Lynch.
So what’s with the tailback carousel?
Some of it is also due in part to performance. Several Seahawks running backs have simply not managed to do the job when it was handed to them (Eddie Lacy? Christine Michael?).
But in each of the past two seasons, the Seahawks also entered the year thinking they had found their post-Lynch successor — Rawls (stress fracture) in 2016 and Chris Carson (broken ankle) in 2017 — only to see injuries quickly derail that plan.
Prosise, who was anointed a starter midway through the 2016 season, was injured in the second game he started, and has played just 11 of 32 games due to injury in two seasons.
Even Lacy, whose tenure will mostly be remembered for ineffectiveness, suffered a groin injury midway through the 2017 season after the Seahawks announced that they planned to give him the bulk of the carries against Washington. That opened the door for Mike Davis — who started the year on the practice squad — to end the season as the starter.
Morton says he has no definitive answers for why Seattle has seen such turnover at tailback.
“It’s just all different types of things, which is crazy,’’ Morton said. “And it’s not like anything where it’s like they have been out of shape or anything and they are just pulling stuff. It’s just been unfortunate.’’
If you’re looking for the reason the Seahawks drafted Penny in the first round despite the presence of Carson — who has earned the starting job heading into the season — the answer, of course, is the tailback merry-go-round from the last three years.
Seattle was determined that this year, if and when injuries hit, they’d have enough running backs. And if that leaves them with the question of how to divide up carries, they’ll take that problem in stride after an unfortunate span of not having enough tailbacks to go around.
“They’ve all been through (injuries) unfortunately,’’ Morton said. “And that’s why it’s important now in this league to have more than one back. You can’t just rely on one guy anymore, you have to have at least two, maybe three. And that’s just part of it.’’