September 02, 2009
SI's 2009 NFL Scouting Reports
Seattle Seahawks
Projected Finish: 1st in NFC West
Jones gained a career-best 4.4 yards per carry in '08, but lost the ball too often.
Bill Frakes/SI
2009 Schedule

This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Given a fresh start thanks to a coaching change, Julius Jones plans to energize an offense that counts heavily on the run.

Everything was going just as Julius Jones had hoped. After acareer-worst season with the Cowboys in 2007, the fifth-year running back wasdetermined to redeem himself with the Seahawks, who had signed him to afour-year free-agent deal worth up to $16 million. He gained only45 yards in the season opener at Buffalo but then broke loose for127 yards against the 49ers">49ers and 140 against the Rams. He could feel theclouds parting, the sun shining. But soon ... darkness.

Jones carried the ball 48 times against San Francisco andSt. Louis, after which his number of attempts plummeted -- from 17 to 12 toseven to six. By November he was out of the starting lineup. By December he wasall but out of the rotation.

But when the season ended, the clouds parted again for Jones. His primarydetractor, Mike Holmgren, stepped down as coach, clearing the way for designatedsuccessor Jim Mora Jr., the team's secondary coach. "When things weren'tgoing too well, Coach Mora was really positive with me," Jones says. "He wouldmake little comments like, 'Keep your head up. Don't worry about it.' Thathelped me out a lot, because there was a time when I didn't feel wanted orneeded. There were times when I felt like I was going a little insane."

Three weeks into training camp Jones probably felt as if someone had turnedback the clock on him, as the team signed free agent Edgerrin James, 11th on theleague's alltime rushing list, to a one-year, $2 million deal. The Seahawksinsist that James, 32, will be a complement to Jones.

Injuries at quarterback and wide receiver started Jones on his downwardspiral in '08. Seattle would sometimes sign a wideout on Monday, then start himon Sunday. Opponents capitalized by stacking the box and daring the Seahawks tobeat them through the air. On other occasions Seattle had no choice but toabandon the run while playing catch-up. The team finished 4-12, its first losingseason since 2002.

Not that Jones didn't have a hand in his own demotion. During a ThanksgivingDay loss to Dallas he coughed up the ball twice, which didn't exactly endear himto Holmgren, who tolerates fumbles the way Tiger Woods tolerates photographerswith itchy index fingers. When Jones turned it over in the first quarter,Holmgren stewed. When he fumbled out-of-bounds in the fourth quarter, Holmgrenboiled. Jones did not get his number called again that day and had only sixcarries over the final three games. Though he averaged a career-high4.4 yards a carry, he finished with only 698 rushing yards, thesecond-lowest total of his NFL career.

Touches shouldn't be a problem this season, however. Mora and new offensivecoordinator Greg Knapp are counting on Jones to be the primary ballcarrier intheir backfield-by-committee, which includes T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett.The Seahawks are installing a zone-blocking scheme in which the backs are beingasked to plant once and get upfield.

"We feel this fits him better than any scheme he's been in," general managerTim Ruskell says of Jones. "You've just got to go where the crease is, and onething he does have is burst."

The Seahawks are at their best when they run effectively. When they went tothe Super Bowl at the end of the 2005 season, they ranked third in the league inrushing; in the three seasons since, they've been no better than 14th. But ifquarterback Matt Hasselbeck and his talented stable of receivers can remainhealthy -- Hasselbeck was out nine games with a bad back, and wideouts Deion Branchand Nate Burleson missed a combined 23 games -- it should create running lanes forJones.

"I've never seen him so serious, so focused, so in shape," Ruskell says. "Hereally appreciates that we have handed him the ball and said, We believe in you.I don't know that anyone else has done that. That can do things forpeople."

-- Jim Trotter


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