While the question of who will start at tailback is an intriguing one for the Seahawks, the team is glad mostly just to have a strong competition at the spot after injuries hit hard in 2016.
One interesting question about the Seahawks entering the 2017 season for fans, media, fantasy football players and others on the outside may not be one the team cares a whole lot about: Who will start at tailback?
Rather than worry about who gets the bulk of the carries, the Seahawks would be glad to have a lot of good backfield options after a 2016 season in which they often struggled to find someone healthy.
“I think it’s an exciting group,’’ coach Pete Carroll said following minicamp in June. “We’ve never been this strong with this many guys who can compete and do things.’’
Three players stand out — free-agent signee Eddie Lacy, third-year vet Thomas Rawls and second-year player C.J. Prosise.
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Prosise figures to be slated for a role as the third-down and two-minute-offense back, and as a receiver where his skills can be create mismatches.
That likely makes it a two-man battle between Lacy and Rawls for the starting-tailback and early-down role.
Lacy, a second-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2013 and a 1,000-yard rusher his first two seasons there, was signed to a one-year contract in March worth as much as $4.25 million. The deal famously includes $385,000 in weight clauses designed to assure he shows up to training camp in optimum shape and stays there.
If he does and is recovered from an ankle injury that ended his season with the Packers after five games, then Lacy would have a significant role in the offense.
The 5-foot-11, 240-ish (the Seahawks hope, anyway) running back was signed with the hope that he will add a physical dimension that the team felt it lacked last season without Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks are hope Lacy can pick up where he left off before being injured when he was statistically having the best season of his career.
Wrote the analytic site Pro Football Focus: “Even last season with his weight very much in question, Lacy still averaged 5.1 yards per carry, 3.4 yards after contact per attempt, and broke 19 tackles on 71 carries. Those are elite numbers, albeit over a small sample size.’’
It may also be easy to overlook Lacy’s receiving. But he averaged almost 33 receptions per year in his three full seasons with the Packers and is more than capable of being a three-down player.
Lacy, though, remained limited during mini-camp, and it’s unclear if he’ll be 100 percent when training camp starts July 30.
That won’t be the case with Rawls, who did little in the offseason and preseason last year while recovering from a broken ankle but is healthy now. He likely will run with the first team when training camp opens, which could give him a leg up on being the starter entering the season.
Rawls never seemed to hit the same stride last season that he did as a rookie in 2015, when he rushed for 830 yards and 5.6 per carry, while coming off the ankle injury and then suffering a broken fibula in the second week that cost him seven games.
But a 161-yard performance in the wild-card playoff win over Detroit showed the rookie form is still there.
And if Rawls can recapture that consistently in 2017, there’s also no way he won’t have a significant role.
Both Lacy and Rawls, though, have an injury history, as does Prosise, who played just six games as a rookie in 2016. That’s why the Seahawks will care most that it has all its options available when the regular season begins Sept. 10 at Green Bay and then worry about how the carries get divvied up.
Assuming everyone is healthy for Week 1, the Seahawks say they’ll figure out ways to use them all, which may not make it easy for anyone setting a fantasy lineup but also could make it difficult for defenses.
“We have a variety of different guys that have different strengths that they bring,’’ Carroll said in June.
The Seahawks also have a few intriguing players behind the trio of Lacy, Rawls and Prosise in second-year player Alex Collins, former 49er Mike Davis and seventh-round pick Chris Carson.
And with the top three guys assured of being on the 53-man roster (barring injury, obviously), the biggest question of camp could be which other running backs make the roster. Collins drew raves for his improved conditioning in the offseason, and Carson, a 6-foot, 218-pounder from Oklahoma State also known for his physical style of running, is a personal favorite of Carroll’s.
“The group is really competitive, and it’s going to be hard to come up with enough snaps with these guys to figure it out,’’ Carroll said. “But we’ll do the best we can.’’
That might also be the best advice for those trying to figure out how the Seahawks will handle their tailback rotation.