RENTON, Wash. -- After years of backing up former league MVP Shaun Alexander, Maurice Morris will be the Seattle Seahawks' starting running back -- on Sunday.
On the eve of the Seahawks' first regular season game, coach Mike Holmgren is sticking to his plan of having co-starters replace the departed Alexander. Morris and Julius Jones, the former starter in Dallas, will split the majority of the carries as the team continues to revamp a running game that has struggled at times the last two seasons.
"Compared to the last couple years, I hope you'll see more yardage gained, for starters," Holmgren said this week. "But you'll see more substitution."
"Before, you had our fullback Mack Strong, and Shaun, and if they weren't tired, or hurt, that's who was going to be in the ball game. The big difference will be the substitution," he said.
With single back systems becoming more scarce in the NFL, the ability to have two running backs that can help shoulder the load is something teams seem to be looking for.
"It's awful hard to get a tailback through 16 games, 20 including the preseason, and then obviously the playoffs at the end," running backs coach Kasey Dunn said Thursday. "It's hard to have your same tailback line up for you week to week and you don't want to have a major dropoff either. We have a real nice luxury right now of having two proven players in the NFL."
Not so fast.
Morris had taken a back seat to Alexander ever since he was drafted by the Seahawks in 2003. Alexander was busy being named to three consecutive Pro Bowls, led the league in rushing and set an NFL record with 28 touchdowns in 2005. Meanwhile, Morris never had more than 38 carries a season during his first three years in Seattle.
"This is the first year I had a chance to start," Morris said.
So far, Jones and Morris appear to be OK with the split duties.
"There's no friction at all in the running back group right now and that's been good," Dunn said. "I think everybody is in it to win more than they're in it for themselves."
Holmgren said he still doesn't know exactly how he is going to handle the running back situation, but he did hint that Jones could start next week against the San Francisco 49ers.
Notes: WR Deion Branch, recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, ran a few routes during individual drills before heading to the locker room Thursday. ... DE Baraka Atkins returned to limited participation in practice after missing a day with a sore back. ... T Sean Locklear, who has a left knee injury, didn't practice and will more than likely miss the season opener in Buffalo.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press