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Who will claim the backup running back role for the Seahawks in 2021

New York Jets v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

It’s just three weeks until the first practices of 2021 training camp for the Seattle Seahawks, and with a roster spot remaining open, there is no shortage of debate among fans regarding what the team should do. However, as fans and observers alike ponder whether the Hawks could add a veteran linebacker or quarterback familiar with their system, the team has just six running backs and a fullback on the roster as they gear up for training camp.

Those seven players competing for spots in the backfield represent a lower number than average at the position, and in training camps past positions with fewer numbers were those with fewer question marks. For example, in 2020 the Seahawks had just nine wide receivers in training camp knowing that Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and David Moore would be returning and would be the top three at the position. This season, with just Lockett and Metcalf back and needing to identify who will play what roles behind them, Seattle now has a full dozen receivers set to compete in camp.

In any case, the players set to compete in the backfield are as follows:

  • Chris Carson
  • Alex Collins
  • DeeJay Dallas
  • Travis Homer
  • Josh Johnson
  • Rashaad Penny
  • Nick Bellore (FB)

The easiest place to start is with the two players who are locks to make the roster in Carson and Pro Bowl fullback Nick Bellore. The team signed Carson in free agency to a deal that is conveniently structured in such a way that if he performs well in 2021 and stays healthy they can convert much of his 2022 base salary to signing bonus and extend him into 2023 and potentially beyond.

Meanwhile, while there is no shortage of Bellore haters, the simple fact of the matter is that beyond making the Pro Bowl on just twenty snaps at fullback, he brings other value as well. Specifically, he’s been in the top three for special teams snaps in both seasons he has spent in Seattle, on top of stepping in as the third down back in the Week 8 37-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers when Travis Homer couldn’t play the entire game. On top of that, Bellore is also the second most experienced linebacker on the roster, having logged 819 defensive snaps for the Jets, 49ers and Lions prior to switching positions from linebacker to fullback.

What that means is that the other five players are likely competing for the last two or three spots on the roster. Homer will likely enter camp as the favorite to claim the third down back role he held before injuries derailed his 2020 season based largely on his pass protection skills, some at which he excels.

If that proves to be the case, it effectively leaves the camp competition to determine who will be Carson’s backup. Penny, of course, showed flashes of what made him a first round pick at times in 2019 before a devastating knee injury derailed both his 2019 and 2020 seasons. How well he is able to recover and come back from an injury that reportedly required a follow up procedure to try to clean things up after this past season ended could determine where he falls in the competition. He seemed to be at his best, with many of his bigger runs during his career coming in gap scheme where the point of attack was well defined ahead of time. If the Seahawks, as many anticipate, move to utilizing a significant amount of wide zone under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, that might not play into Penny’s skillset.

Also in competition would be Dallas, who certainly struggled at times during his rookie season, but who flashed just enough running behind zone blocking in limited opportunities in 2021 that his performance behind the starting offensive line during the preseason is something that will be worth watching closely.

This is in no way predicting a breakout season for Dallas, just bringing up that he had a pair of runs against the Buffalo Bills in Week 9 on which he displayed the patience and vision that could prove valuable in the team’s new offensive system.

Vision and patience also make the lone rookie fighting for a spot on the roster interesting. After a junior season in which he ran for 1,298 yards and 11 touchdowns on 201 carries (6.5 yards per attempt), Josh Johnson of Louisiana Monroe had an injury plagued 2020 season in which he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry on 88 attempts. If he returns to pre-injury form and is given a shot, that patience and vision could earn him a spot on the roster. The biggest question, of course, is how his skills will translate from the Sun Belt Conference to the NFL.

Now all fans have to do is sit back and enjoy the training camp competition, while waiting to learn who winds up taking control of the number two spot behind Carson.