There was a time when Russell Wilson was a top-20 rusher. Now that he’s slimmed down, the line has grown up and the roster has good backs, time to re-introduce the read-option.
In light of the past couple of Seahawks seasons of goodness-but-not-greatness, it is remarkably easy to forget that Russell Wilson not long ago was the 17th-ranked rusher in the NFL, ahead of thick-legged luminaries such as Jonathan Stewart, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson and LeGarrette Blount.
So easy was it to forget, Wilson felt compelled this week to break from his well-schooled public modesty to remind reporters of his deed.
“I know, I guess, a couple years ago, I even ran for 800-something yards,” he said, awkwardly searching his oral dashboard for the location of the horn.
Indeed, he should be proud of the feat of his feet, 839 yards, to be precise. That same year, 2014, teammate Marshawn Lynch rambled for 1,306 yards, fourth in the NFL and 267 ahead of Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy at No. 7.
The Lynch/Wilson rushing tandem of 2,500 ground yards was a nightmare for defensive coordinators because it was so unpredictable, especially deployed via the then-fashionable read-option that disguised intent until it was too late for defenders. Perhaps more than any other weapon — Wilson led the NFL that season in average yards per carry at 7.2 — the Lynch/Wilson double shot propelled the Seahawks to a second consecutive Super Bowl.
Had they used it perhaps one more time that year, the course of human history likely would have been re-written. Or something like that. Anyway, we are speaking of The Play That Shall Not Be Acknowledged, so we will tuck it away until Richard Sherman brings it up again.
Last season, hobbled by hurts, the absence of the temporarily retired Lynch as well as a feeble line, the Seahawks, a top-four team in rushing yards for the previous four seasons, fell to 25th.
The subject of a back-to-the-future run game came up because Wilson has looked so good this preseason, due to dropping almost 20 pounds of chub — no dairy, no gluten — and from the return to health of his legs after injuries to a knee and an ankle knocked down his 2016 rushing total to 239 yards.
He was asked whether the read-option may advance from the back of the playbook to the front.
“It’s an explosive thing,” he said. “Over the past years, we’ve been able to rack up a lot of yards in the running game because of that. I think that’s a big part of getting first downs and challenging the defense to make a decision.
“I think it’ll definitely be a part of the offense, but I also think with the running backs that we have, we can run downhill right at them. I think the running game will be very versatile.”
The Seahawks have one more fake game Thursday (at Oakland, 7 p.m., FOX), then the world begins to find out whether Wilson’s forecasted return to Seahawks scariness scares anybody.
C Justin Britt was a part of that 2014 line. The passage of time has allowed him an appreciation of how extraordinary the run game was that year.
“We were just doing it right, just executing — doing the same stuff we are now,” he said. But Marshawn is one of a kind, and Russ is one of a kind too. Put them together, and it’s a dangerous combination.”
Any replication of 2014’s totals will require an improved line, one that in 2016 allowed 41 sacks of Wilson, second-highest in the NFL. A run game almost always is better going forward.
“Last year we were inexperienced, and injuries hit us,” Britt said. “We kept mixing in right tackles, and (rookie RG Germain Ifedi) was out early. We couldn’t build the camaraderie or the trust. There was always someone new.
“In a way it wasn’t bad, because those guys still here got experience. There’s always a positive. They know what they’re doing. Look at (LT Rees Odhiambo, stepping in for George Fant). He’s doing a wonderful job. Mark Glowinski and Germain are handling the right side. (LG Luke Joeckel) has been good all preseason.”
Of course, no one expects Britt to offer anything right now but lollipops and rainbows. Hey, it’s August.
Still, while it’s true that Lynch is unlikely to be replaced, it is also true that the Seahawks have hired a fleet of competent backs to get close, primarily because fresher legs can be available in the fourth quarter. Among Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis and rookie star Chris Carson, Britt sees depth and competence.
“We have a plethora of backs,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be in that (running backs) room on cut-down day.”
Owing to the injury problems last year, as well as defenses that have adapted, Wilson is unlikely to be as free to run the read-option as he did in 2014. But he doesn’t have to; the idea is do it enough to establish the threat.
No one wants to see Wilson feeling compelled to brag up his feats. The world elsewhere is changing fast enough.