Sports Out West

Seattle Seahawks: What will running back-by-committee look like?

WP-SeahawksMarshawnLynch

 The Seattle Seahawks have only two weeks of OTAs complete in preparation for the 2014 season but have already made some big news.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell announced last week at a Town Hall event for season ticket holders that the Seahawks would go more running back-by-committee in 2014, via ProFootballTalk. That came as a surprise for many, as Marshawn Lynch has been the catalyst for the Seattle offense over the past three years.

Since his first full season with the team in 2011, Lynch has averaged just over 300 carries per season. Lynch also just turned 28-years-old, the age running backs typically begin to decline significantly.

For those reasons, the Seahawks are going to look to decrease Lynch’s workload in 2014 and also start the process of thinking about the future at running back. I n some ways, Lynch began to show some signs of decline in 2013.

Lynch ran for 333 fewer yards on just 14 fewer carries in 2013 than the previous year, although he scored one more touchdown. Near the end of the year, Lynch went through a five-game stretch where he accumulated 72 yards or fewer in each.

As every back is different, we don’t know how sharp Lynch’s decline might be and he had some big numbers in the playoffs last year. But it makes sense that the Seahawks would at least be starting to think about lessening his workload.

The Seahawks’ offense is heavily dependent on the run game to open up things for Russell Wilson, so the team can’t afford to lose too much from the running back position. Fortunately, Seattle may have already found its running back of the future.

Christine Michael is poised to take over a larger role this season in the running back-by-committee. The Seahawks were high on Michael coming out of Texas A&M and briefly saw some of his skill in 2013.

While Michael did not see much action overall last season, he showed tremendous explosive ability in the open field. Michael has the athletic ability to be a punt returner and should slide seamlessly into the running back role when Lynch moves on.

The only thing keeping Michael from getting more snaps in 2013 was his lack of pass-blocking ability, as he did not get much experience with it in A&M’s offense. Michael has now had an entire offseason to work on pass blocking, and Pete Carroll reports that he is much improved from a year ago.

Lynch has a cap hit of $9 million next year before becoming a free agent in 201 6. The Seahawks aren’t likely to retain Lynch unless he restructures his deal, as it would make little sense to pay an aging running back that much with expensive extensions for Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner coming up.   

Michael is the future at running back, so the Seahawks will be looking to ease him into the role with more carries.

Third-year man Robert Turbin will also get a fair share of carries in the committee. Turbin might not have the speed to ever be a No. 1 option, but he has proven an ability to be a nice change-of-pace back over the last season.

Lynch will certainly still be the feature back, at least until he shows some noticeable signs of decline. An initial guess at the breakdown of carries might be something like 60 percent for Lynch, 30 percent for Michael and 10 percent for Turbin.

 It will be hard to see the beloved Lynch take on a lesser role, but it’s time for the Seahawks to start thinking about the future.

Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press 

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Nathaniel Reeves

Nathaniel Reeves is a journalism student at the University of Washington, currently covering sports for The UW Daily in addition to Sports Out West. He has been closely following Seattle sports his entire life.