The Seahawks Backfield Dilemma

When the Seahawks decided to draft Christine Michael in the second round and Spencer Ware in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, a pretty talented yet stable backfield got a bit more complicated. As training camp concludes and the preseason continues, the running back and fullback positions are getting cloudier rather than clearer. With the emergence of Derrick Coleman as a hybrid RB/FB, the Hawks are going to have to make some extremely tough decisions come roster cut down on August 27th (75 men) and August 31st (53 man final roster).

Oh and then there is this from today:

So....he probably makes the final 53

So….he probably makes the final 53

Let’s eliminate the locks to make the roster. Marshawn Lynch is in.

Crap, that didn’t help much.

That leaves us with Michael and Robert Turbin as true running backs, Spencer Ware and Derrick Coleman as hybrids, and Michael Robinson as the true fullback (plus Phil Bates as the ultra hybrid). In examining the past three rosters for the Schneider/Carroll regime, the Hawks kept four backs and five wide receivers. Even with only two QBs in 2012 (instead of three due to a rule change regarding emergency QBs), Seattle still kept only four RB/FBs and five WRs. Yet this year, much of the talk is about keeping five RB/FBs and potentially six wide receivers. So who stays?

Much of this will come down to philosophy and special teams. First, the philosophy. While we try to interpret decisions of Carroll and Schneider, ultimately it is hard to figure out which way they go here. We know they like versatility. We know they like youth and speed. At the same time, they aren’t adverse to keeping someone who has “value” in the locker room. This is where the Mike Rob dilemma comes in. It is clear that PC and JS will cut a veteran, even one who has a big salary (see Houshmandzadeh in 2010). While Robinson certainly earns more than Ware or Coleman will, he also has a different veteran status than Housh did. First, Marshawn seems to love him. Second, Marshawn seems to get a lot of yards with Mike Rob blocking in front of him. Third, Marshawn is a bit volatile. Sense a theme here? Even though Lynch has been a great teammate thus far in Seattle, why wouldn’t he? This is a guy who had top five attempts in the league the past two seasons. He gets the rock. Unfortunately for Robinson, Carroll and Schneider might just not care about Lynch’s success with a fullback in front of him or Mike Rob’s presence in the locker room. This tweet from Davis Hsu of Field Gulls sums it up nicely.

Another part of the philosophy conversation comes down to Carroll and Darrell Bevell’s plan for the offense. Can they get away with more inexperienced, less talented blockers at fullback? With the zone read and the single back looks, Lynch can still be effective without Robinson. Check out this awesome breakdown from Mike Chan at Field Gulls as an example. This is clearly a reason to watch closely this weekend versus Denver and in the following two preseason games. While the Hawks won’t be much more than vanilla, the reps given to the backs could be telling.

Additionally, Carroll emphasizes time and time again the importance of versatility when it comes to special teams. If the Hawks are going to keep a fourth and fifth back, they are most likely playing on kick and punt coverage/returns. Jermaine Kearse will be the fourth receiver because he has become a good receiver, but he is a lock to make the team due to his improvement on special teams a year ago. Don’t believe Carroll puts as much into it as we think? Check out this quote about Coleman from Carroll:

Coach Pete Carroll cited Coleman as “one of the most dependable special teams guys … he’s fantastic technique-wise and gives us the assurance we know he can play for us as a core special teams guy.” – News Tribune

Or this from Phil Bates:

Like Ben Obomanu during his time in Seattle, Bates understands he will have to contribute on special teams to earn a job.

“I’ve got to play every special teams, and do good on special teams,” he said. “So that’s the key – playing special teams, knowing your job and excelling at it.” – News Tribune (Williams).

Not George Michael

Not George Michael

The interesting caveat in this heated battle is linebacker Heath Farwell. Perceived as a guy on the roster bubble, Farwell’s value lies in his incredible special teams play. If the Hawks feel like Ware, Bates and/or Coleman can make the plays, maybe the Hawks keep one less linebacker. Combine Farwell with the hybrid LB/LEO spot of guys like Mike Morgan and Malcolm Smith and you have a roster prediction headache waiting to happen. (I won’t make it more confusing by mentioning linebacker Allen Bradford played running back just a year ago and could be some crazy version of an athletic William “Fridge” Perry. Ok, not really.)

When it comes down to it, the Hawks aren’t keeping six backs plus Phil Bates. It would be hard to believe they cut Turbin or Michael at this point as both have shown good potential and are so young (plus the invested high picks – even higher than Schneider likes to cut). Could they trade Turbin or Michael? Maybe, but it just seems unlikely this early in the year. Even with injuries, teams don’t act too desperate in August. Everyone thinks their version of Le’Veon Bell or Chris Ivory will work out. Thus it comes down to Robinson, Coleman, Ware and Bates. Obviously Bates has the advantage of being a potential sixth wide receiver who could play the spot, while Robinson holds the advantage of being a Pro Bowl caliber player. Robinson also could be a cap casualty as the Hawks have one of the highest team salaries in the NFL and he makes $2.5 million this year (allowing for some roll over money for 2014. I don’t really get it either, just read Hsu stuff at Field Gulls). It is certainly worth reading every quote and watching every snap as the Hawks move forward toward August 31st.