Will Seahawks’ offense add this facet under Ryan Grubb?

Jun 6, 2024, 8:06 AM

Seattle Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III...

Kenneth Walker III of the Seattle Seahawks during a 2023 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Seattle Seahawks featured plenty of talented running backs during the Pete Carroll era, but there’s an area of the offense those players rarely got involved in.

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That area would be the passing game, where Seattle consistently ranked near the bottom of the league under Carroll in terms getting the ball to the running back. However, now there’s a new regime in place with head coach Mike Macdonald and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb.

ESPN Seahawks insider Brady Henderson broke it down by the past three coordinators under Carroll recently in a social media post, and he delved into the topic Wednesday when he joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

“I wanted to see if this is a Pete Carroll thing or if it’s more of a coordinator thing,” Henderson said, “and the fact that his last three coordinators – Darrell Bevell, Brian Schottenheimer and most recently Shane Waldron – in all three of those tenures, they ranked either 27th or 30th in terms of targets to running backs.”

With that in mind, Henderson asked Grubb about involving running backs in the passing game recently during OTAs.

“He didn’t really expand on it other than to say, ‘Oh, I love doing that.’ And he said his goal is to get all five of the eligible receivers involved in the passing game,” Henderson said.

No lack of RB talent

One of the interesting factors surrounding Seattle’s lack of throwing to the running back under Carroll was the talent the team had in the backfield over that time period. The Seahawks’ running back room included the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Chris Carson and Kenneth Walker III. That trio combined for seven 1,000-yard seasons on the ground under Carroll.

Despite all of the talent, no Seahawk ranked in the top 10 of the NFL in receiving yards by a running back during Carroll’s 14 seasons. The high-water mark came in 2014 when Lynch finished 12th among running backs with 367 yards on 37 catches. Lynch’s production came while ranking 24th with 48 targets.

Henderson pointed out that pass-catching ability at running back played a factor in the team drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round over Nick Chubb in the 2018 NFL Draft.

“For much of the pre-draft process – almost all of it – Nick Chubb was their guy,” Henderson said. “Very late in the game they switched over to Rashaad Penny, and a big reason for that was because Brian Schottenheimer, who was entering his first year as the offensive coordinator, had coached Nick Chubb for a season at Georgia when he was the offensive coordinator there, and he had a major misgiving about Chubb’s ability to contribute as a pass catcher and thought he was going to be a two-down guy who’s not going to give you much on third down because he can’t catch the ball well.”

Penny’s production in Seattle was greatly hampered by injuries, but the team also rarely used him in the pass game when healthy. In 42 career games with Seattle, Penny had just 36 targets.

Co-host Mike Salk asked if the lack of passing to the running back during the Carroll era had to do with running backs needing to stay in to block due to the poor play of the offensive line.

“The other side of that is, when your offensive line is bad, how do you neutralize a pass rush? You have a really good screen game, and we’ve never really seen that consistently in Seattle, either,” Henderson said. “And I know people will say that to be a good screen team, you’ve got to be devoted to being a good screen team because of all the timing and the intricacy of that play. You’ve really got to practice that play a lot and, if you’re practicing that play a whole lot, you’re not doing other things in practice and so maybe you just have to make a decision to be a good screen team, and certainly they have not done that.”

Grubb’s usage of RBs

Grubb showed a willingness to utilize his running backs in the passing game during his two years leading the nation’s top passing attack with the UW Huskies, and that came while having a talent-stocked receiver room and stellar offensive line. Huskies running backs combined for 45 receptions last season and 58 in 2022, which accounted for 12% and 15.5% of the team’s receptions, respectively.

Grubb got the running backs even more involved in the passing during his time as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State. In 2021, the Bulldogs had a pair running backs eclipse 300 receiving yards and combine for 17.3% of the team’s receptions, and the team’s second-leading receiver in 2019 was a running back.

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6-10 a.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

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