Each day I will cover two position groups as we march toward day one of Seahawks training camp. It is time to talk about running backs, fullbacks, and the guys trying to tackle them, the linebackers.
Marshawn Lynch is back, and is now considered by many to be the best running back in football. He certainly has that title if you judge by production. No player in the NFL has more touchdowns in the last three seasons than Lynch. No player has more touchdowns in the last four seasons than Lynch. He has been fantastic, but there is real reason to believe he was serious about possibly retiring after last season. It was a guest appearance on a show called Tanked where Lynch admitted he was thinking of hanging it up when the Seahawks offered “12 large” that made it tough to turn down.
He is now 29. The team needs him to be great. Will he be as motivated to play through pain and run through contact if he knows he is just playing this year for money and not passion? Probably. We won’t know for sure until the season starts.
The more up-in-the-air battle will be happening behind Lynch where Christine Michael and Robert Turbin return, and newcomers Thomas Rawls and Rod Smith enter the fray. Turbin is recovering from hip surgery, and we know how that hampered Kam Chancellor last year. He is also on the last year of his deal. It will be revealing to see how many snaps he gets.
Michael is the lightning rod. People call him a bust because he has played so few snaps. That is like calling a iceberg small because only a fraction of it is visible above the water. Michael has undeniable talent. I have no doubt he would produce prodigious yardage totals if he got snaps. The questions for him are (in order): professionalism, durability, ball security. He needs to earn his way out of Tom Cable’s dog house. It took Lynch going to Cable hat in hand back in 2011 to unlock what he has become in Seattle. Michael would be wise to do the same.
Smith and Rawls are intriguing runners who are sure to be camp stories because running backs often are, but both are far more likely fighting for a practice squad spot than a roster spot. It would be surprising if John Schneider decided to use up a roster spot on a player and position that is easy to stow away on the practice squad, and in doing so, eject a player in Michael or Turbin who are under contract and would be certainly picked up elsewhere.
Derrick Coleman is the guy here. He is possibly the best special teams player on the roster, and was the starting fullback the last season or so. Will Tukuafu was fun to watch, but he simply is not valuable enough on special teams to push Coleman off the roster, and they won’t be keeping two fullbacks. Brandon Cottom is an undrafted player who will fight for practice squad consideration.
Could Bobby Wagner be the best player on the Seahawks defense this season? It is a question worth asking. Earl Thomas will be coming off injury. Wagner is coming off his first All-Pro season and may be getting his first big contract extension soon. He should be healthy and confident and ready to fill up a stat sheet with tackles, interceptions and sacks.
Bruce Irvin and KJ Wright combine with Wagner to form the most solid unit on the team heading into camp. Starters for the last two years together, this trio is now one of the best in the NFL. They are all in their physical prime and should be ready to put their best season together.
Kevin Pierre-Louis (KPL) and Eric Pinkins are interesting prospects to watch. Both were drafted last year, but had their seasons derailed by injury. Pinkins was drafted to be a cornerback after playing safety in college. He will now compete as a smallish linebacker with great speed. Can he get off blocks and stay healthy going against lineman all day? His special team talents should give him a legitimate shot to make the roster.
KPL made an impression when he got on the field, flashing elite speed. He needs to hone his craft this year and find his niche that allows him to get more snaps. Durability is the most important thing for a player who appears to have ample talent.
Brock Coyle will have a little competition from undrafted free agent inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy out of Georgia Tech. Coyle is a very solid linebacker, but again, special teams is absolutely key for backup players. That is where Nealy will need to beat out Coyle if he can beat him out at all.