My colleague Ben Harbaugh got me thinking the other day with a Closer Look at the Beast-Hulk, also known as Seahawks' rookie running back Robert Turbin. As I said in the commentary there on Saturday, I'm very interested to see how much and in what situations the Seahawks use Turbin this season. Will he be primarily be a third-down back? Does he have the blitz pick up, pass protection chops? Will he be more of a rotation back with Marshawn, meant to limit carries and spread out the work load and punishment that NFL backs take over the course of a season?
We've heard a lot about how Pete Carroll likes the "Thunder and Lightning" element to the run game - Tom Cable has mentioned this as well - but one of the obvious disadvantages to that style, particularly when the 'lightning' element is a smaller, scat-back, third-down back style of player like, say, Leon Washington, is that defenses can see that when "lightning" is on the field, they should expect it will be an outside run or a swing pass, or more probably just a pass. Leon got so few carries last year because he may be considerably more one-dimensional when compared to even Justin Forsett, who looks like an outside runner but actually packs punch like a bigger back. More important, defenses could see which back breaks the huddle and have the immediate advantage predicting whether it will be a run - inside or outside - or a pass. Teams study this very closely - tendencies out of personnel groupings, down and distance, in a similar manner a batter might study a pitcher's preferences with certain counts, righties or lefties.
With Lynch and Turbin, their similar builds, overlapping skillsets, and ability to run inside or outside, catch a swing pass, or simply pass block, disguises offensive playcallng very well. The Lynch/Turbin combo, in theory, should diminish predictability. Another Pat Kirwin "Take Your Eye Off the Ball" quote for you:
"When a team has two guys who can run the ball effectively from the same personnel and formations and can be used in the same down-and-distance situations, the team has a tactical advantage."
Going back to Ben Harbaugh's look at the rookie out of Utah State, "Turbin rarely falls anywhere but forward and he usually takes at least one defender for a ride. This fits nicely with his assumed role on the team. When spelling Marshawn in the second half, we're probably looking to wear down defenses and grind out victories. If Marshawn is hurt, Turbin's power driving forward will help our running game remain consistent in the absence of our franchise back."
However, as Harbaugh points out, "several sources, including Pete Carroll, have noted the quickness Turbin displayed at mini camps. There's no doubt that he has rare explosiveness for a back his size."
Seahawks Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable addressed this as well, earlier in the offseason. "One thing that this system has had - we had it in Oakland with McFadden and Bush, is we had a fast guy, an explosive guy, and a really heavy pounder - a heavy guy in Michael Bush," said Cable. "What we want to do is use Marshawn's style, the violence that he runs with, and see if we could put more speed back there with the size.
"That's what Turbin brings. He may not be as violent a runner as Marshawn is, but he's more of a slasher and he's carrying 228 pounds. So, you like that. They're going to offset each other. It's kind of like changing gears in your car - when you get Marshawn, he's going to bang on you, break tackles and run through tackles, and make you miss and all that, and this guy's going to stick his foot in the ground, make you miss, and finish."
As said - Turbin is fast - hopefully very fast, and also quick - laterally and with that "plus" burst that you might hear scouts talk about. With Turbin as the 'lightning' element to the Seahawks' run game to counter or augment the punishing style that Lynch brings, his presence in the huddle will keep defenses on their heels, guessing at the playcall, and providing a little different style to have to account for. The key here though is that theoretically, Turbin can also be a between-the-tackles runner like Lynch that doesn't betray the offensive play prior to the snap. The main question will be whether or not Turbin can assimilate into the Cable system - it took Marshawn eight weeks to get there last season before he finally broke out against Dallas. Lynch finally accepted the fact he can't dance around behind the line, and in this system, you need decisive cuts and north-south running. As Cable put it, and I'm paraphrasing, 'you get from Point A to Point B the way I want you to. You can do your thing to get from Point B to Point C."
Now, revisit the Robert Turbin cutups from DraftBreakdown's great crew - JMpasq, PhillyJimmy and more.