Addressing the fullback spot, tailback depth and flexible scheduling in our latest Seahawks Twitter mailbag.
In the process of recording our Seahawks podcast this week — SeaTalk — I asked for some questions for a Q-and-A segment.
There were a few that we didn’t have time for so I figured I’d answer some of those here (and throughout the rest of the season I’ll try to answer a few a week in this space).
So here we go.
A: The question refers to the fact that the Seahawks do not have a listed fullback on their roster after the release of Will Tukuafu following the second game of the year against the Rams. That move came after Tukuafu was signed following the opener, when Tani Tupou served as the fullback against Miami. The team had cut Tukuafu prior to the season in large part to avoid his $760,000 salary becoming guaranteed for the full season. Starting with week two, he could be signed and then paid on a week-to-week basis. But Tukuafu lasted only one week — or he has so far, anyway — and the Seahawks now have gone two weeks without a fullback after having had a pretty stable force at that position since 2010. Michael Robinson served as the fullback from 2010-12 and then again for some of the 2013 season while Derrick Coleman played that spot from 2013-15 and Tukuafu in 2014-15, with Seattle for much of that time serving as a rare team in the NFL to have two fullbacks on its roster.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Russell Wilson's TikTok about Subway sandwich draws mockery
- Mariners clinch first postseason berth since 2001 on walk-off home run
- Mariners outlast Rangers, drop magic number to one to end postseason drought
- As if these Mariners could clinch a playoff berth with anything other than dramatics
- No. 15 Washington's rally falls short in 40-32 loss to UCLA
As coach Pete Carroll noted on Monday, though, the fact that Seattle does not have a player listed as a fullback on its roster doesn’t mean it doesn’t have players playing that position. “I don’t think we have a fullback in name but we have guys playing fullback,” Carroll said. “So we’re okay.” The main guy doing that so far is tight end Luke Willson, who as detailed here got about a half-dozen snaps handling fullback duties against the 49ers, and had about the same against the Jets. Alex Collins also lined up at fullback for at least one snap against the Jets. And the expectation is that Nick Vannett may also be used in fullback-type roles similar to Willson once he makes his debut — Vannett now appears healthy and should be available for Sunday’s game against Atlanta.
Seattle, recall, has four tight ends on its roster — Jimmy Graham, Willson, Vannett and Brandon Williams — essentially keeping one more tight end at the expense of a fullback with the obvious thought that the Seahawks can get what they want out of a fullback from the tight ends. It also simply allows Seattle to keep all four tight ends. In particular, Williams became a player about midway through camp that the Seahawks decided they wanted around, especially for his special teams value — his 56 special teams snaps are more than any other offensive player.
Also playing into this is that so far Seattle is passing it more — roughly 57 percent of the time — than at any point since Carroll’s first year with the Seahawks in 2010. That number is up about four percent from last year and indicative of the Seahawks going with more spread and no-huddle formations. That has simply meant fewer snaps when a fullback was needed — Tupou and Tukuafu each played in the games they played for Seattle this season.
So for 2016, it’s more than possible that the Seahawks won’t have anyone else bearing the title of fullback on the roster. But that won’t mean Seattle doesn’t still have a fullback.
A: The “when all are healthy” is the key part of this. It’s still hard to know when that will be. Thomas Rawls is out another 2-3 weeks or so, it appears, and C.J. Prosise may also still be out another week or two (here’s what Carroll said on Prosise and Rawls on Monday).
Until then, Seattle has Christine Michael, Collins and C.J. Spiller to handle the tailback duties, with Spiller serving as the third-down back. My hunch is that for now, Seattle will keep all five tailbacks — Seattle has typically had five running backs on its roster and with no fullback this year, keeping five tailbacks doesn’t upset the roster balance in any way. As Carroll has mentioned a few times now, Michael is being used more than he ever has as a professional (63 carries in four games, 38 in the last two) and now has to learn how to handle taking that kind of workload week after week. By the time Rawls comes back, I think there will be zero hesitation to want to take some of that workload off of Michael and hand it to Rawls to assure keeping each as fresh as possible for the long haul of 12 games in 12 weeks to close out the regular season and then what the team hopes is a deep playoff run.
To what degree the two share carries will likely be determined by how each is playing at that time. I’d imagine Michael remains the starter until results show a need to change, but that each could be used fairly evenly. With Prosise being a rookie and having battled injuries all season, I’d also imagine Spiller hangs around as insurance, both for the third-down role and as an every down back. When everyone is healthy, Collins probably becomes the odd man out in terms of being active on gameday — as was the case for the first two games of the season, when he was inactive. But for now, he’s needed as a backup to Michael as an early-down back.
As for why Seattle kept Collins over Pope? I think the investment the team made in him as a draft pick played at least a small role, as did the fact that he had a pretty impressive college resume — I don’t think the team was so dissuaded by anything it saw out of Collins in the pre-season to not want to give him a true shot to see if what he did in college could translate to the NFL.
It’s also worth noting that Collins had been impressive early in camp, and during the team’s lone full-scale scrimmage, before being slowed for a bit by an ankle injury. In particular, Collins showed good receiving ability — maybe better than the team had anticipated — and with Prosise battling injuries much of camp I think they wanted another player at tailback who could help fill the third-down back role if needed (which Collins basically did against the 49ers). The Seahawks undoubtedly would have re-signed Pope to the practice squad. But he was instead claimed by the Jets (though he has yet to play). Here’s what Carroll said at the time about the decision to waive Pope: “He’s a really good player, he’s a nice player. We liked our running backs, they’re in good shape, they had their spot right there, but he did have a really good preseason and he was a great find. We’ll see what happens with the Jets.”
A: None this week as the deadline has passed — as the rules state, changes have to be made 12 days in advance, other than for week 17, when it is six days. The rest of Seattle’s games this season are eligible to be flexed other than the three non-Sunday games (Monday night Nov. 7 against Buffalo, Thursday night Dec. 14 against the Rams and Saturday Dec. 24 against the Cardinals).