With Seahawks, role of ‘Robin’ suits James

By Eric D. Williams
Updated: August 27, 2009

New Seahawks running back Edgerrin James, left, and fellow running back Julius Jones chat during James' first practice with the team on Wednesday.

New Seahawks running back Edgerrin James, left, and fellow running back Julius Jones chat during James' first practice with the team on Wednesday.

RENTON, Wash. — Running back Edgerrin James will play Robin to Julius Jones’ Batman.

That’s what James said Wednesday afternoon when the veteran running back spoke to local reporters for the first time since signing a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks.

James shadowed Jones for most of the 21/2-hour practice, leaning in to get advice here or there, and mostly serving as a spectator while he tried to get up to speed on his new team’s offense.

James said there will be no competition for carries between the backfield running mates, and that he is willing to fill his role as a complementary back to Jones, although he bristled at being in a similar role for Arizona last season, leading to the team eventually release him in April.

“In this day and age in the NFL everything is pretty much two backs,” James said. “With two backs, I am not here to compete with Julius. I am here to complement and come in here for us to work together. Do whatever we have to do. I just want to win.”

Seahawks coach Jim Mora said he talked with Jones about James’ arrival before the team brought the former Arizona back in Tuesday, and reiterated that Jones will be the team’s main rusher.

“Julius is going to be our workhorse, our lead dog,” Mora said. “And to be able to get a guy of Edgerrin’s caliber, and of his personality, and of his pedigree, I guess you want to say, to come in here and do what he’s going to do, it’s really a bonus for us.”

Mora said the Seahawks made the move because they believe T.J. Duckett, whose contract they terminated in order to make room on the roster for James, was more of a role player.

Further, the team believes James is more in line with what they had in mind for Jones’ understudy – a guy who can help carry the load at running back and serve as a solid backup should Jones suffer an injury.

“It was our opinion, as a staff, as an organization, that at this point, he was a little bit more of a role player for us, and we were looking for more of a complementary player,” Mora said of Duckett. “I’m sure that T.J. would disagree with that, and I would expect him to.”

Mora said the Seahawks believe James can still play after watching game film of him from the end of the 2008 regular season and his playoff performance.

“That’s what we based it upon mostly,” Mora said of the team’s decision. “That, and his history of being a tough, physical runner that’s durable, that, like I said, doesn’t take losses, gains yards.

“Even if it’s half a yard, he’s moving the chains. When we watched him on film, he still looked like that guy. He can punish people. He can find the crease. He’d lean into it, and fall forward. There were very little times when the pile pushed him back, and all those things were appealing.”

Mora also got a recommendation from another reputable source – his father. James said he had one of his best seasons as a pro while playing for Jim Mora, the elder, at Indianapolis. And the younger Mora said his father told him that James was one of his favorite players of all time.

James said he’s familiar with the zone blocking scheme, having had much of his success in Indianapolis playing in a similar blocking scheme for the Colts and offensive line coach Howard Mudd.

Mora said he doesn’t know if James will play on Saturday against Kansas City, and the team will have to wait and see if the 31-year-old back is mentally and physically ready to play.

The move appears to cement the team’s rotation at running back. Jones will get the lion’s share of the carries, while James serves as a capable backup and third-down player in the team’s passing game and second-year player Justin Forsett becomes a change-up back and special teams contributor.

There are some concerns, however, about how much James has left in the tank. With 12,121 yards, he’s the 11th-leading rusher in league history. But James rushed for only 514 yards in limited action last season for Arizona and has been held to an average of less than 4 yards a carry since 2005.

So can James still get the job done?

“We’ll see,” he said. “You guys just come out here and see. I’m not going to sit up here and say I’m going to do this or that. I’m just coming to work and trying to put myself in a position to have success.”

Count fullback Justin Griffith among the believers.

“I think he’s going to help us out a lot,” Griffith said. “We all know what Edgerrin James can do. He’s a great football player who’s played in big games, and that’s what you need. You need a veteran in here to kind of guide some of these young guys along the way to get us where we need to be.”