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Clayton: Seahawks putting it all on the line with run game, just like in 2011

Seahawks draft selection Rashaad Penny ran for 2,248 yards for San Diego State in 2017. (AP)

In total reflection on the recently completed NFL draft and earlier in free agency this offseason, the Seahawks are reliving what they did in 2011.

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Pete Carroll and John Schneider were advancing the rebuilding of the franchise in 2011. The Seahawks were 7-9 in Carroll’s first year, but they had traded for Marshawn Lynch in 2010 and were trying to get the running game started.

What is similar now to 2011 is the emphasis on advancing the running game. The Seahawks had the 31st-rated running offense in 2010 even with Lynch for 12 games. Clearly, the ultimate plan was to build a great defense. And while the Legion of Boom eventually emerged, it was the running offense that gave the Seahawks their first identity.

They started in free agency in 2011 by signing wide receiver Sidney Rice, but a key signing came later when they found no one bidding on Zach Miller, who was a complete tight end who could run block. Then their first two picks in the draft were offensive linemen: James Carpenter and John Moffitt.

The draft grades in 2011 were much like this year’s – a lot of Cs and Ds. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper thought Carpenter, a first-rounder, was taken too high. Carpenter and Moffitt started as rookies but never lived up to where they were drafted.

This offseason, the Seahawks have lived up to Carroll’s vow to improve the running game.

After last weekend’s draft, most draftniks ripped the Seahawks for taking running back Rashaad Penny too high in the first round even though he checked all the boxes the Seahawks wanted in a running back. He’s low to the ground and tough. He breaks tackles. He was the fourth-fastest running back at the combine. Penny could also be a big part of the passing offense.

Not only did the Seahawks draft a first-round halfback, they brought in two pass-blocking tight ends – Ed Dickson in free agency and UW’s Will Dissly in the draft. They signed right guard D.J. Fluker, who is known for his run-blocking. Brian Schottenheimer was brought in as offensive coordinator to revive the running game.

The difference from now to 2011 is the Seahawks have so much more talent than they did back then. In 2011, they were transitioning from Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback to Tarvaris Jackson. They have Russell Wilson now at quarterback, one of the top five or six in football. Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent in 2011, is a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.

Jim Moore’s NFL Draft recap: Seahawks’ best and worst picks

Even though the defense is losing Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, maybe Kam Chancellor and others, they still have Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and Earl Thomas.

The mistake of grading Carroll-Schneider drafts early is outsiders can’t capture their vision of players. The 2011 D grade devalued a draft that ended up producing  Sherman, Wright, Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith.

In November 2011, Kiper re-graded that Seahawks draft and gave it a B-.

Because the Seahawks are more talented now, many of the draft choices might not be able to earn significant playing time as rookies. That wasn’t the case in 2011, when injuries opened the door for Sherman to get on the field earlier than expected.

Carroll and Schneider have a long track record of drafting defensive players who turn out great even though they might not grade as well on other teams’ draft boards. The coaching staff knows how to develop defenders. What will be the key to this season is if their vision of building a running game can come close to what they started doing in 2011.

More columns from 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton

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