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Originally published Monday, July 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks double up in the backfield with Julius Jones and Maurice Morris

Backs Jones and Morris will split duties, which should help keep them in top running shape.

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — When Julius Jones came to Seattle, the assumption was that the Seahawks signed him to be Shaun Alexander's successor.

Well, that was half-right.

Coach Mike Holmgren considers Jones a starter at halfback. It's just that he's not the only one. Holmgren says Maurice Morris is in that same category.

"I'm looking at it right now as if we have two starters at that position," Holmgren said.

Running backs aren't like a religion. You can have more than one, and that's just what Holmgren said he plans to do, following the lead of teams all over the league who are spreading their backfield's workload.

Washington's Clinton Portis led the league in carries last season with 325, the lowest league-leading total since 1990 when Ernest Byner had 297.

In 2007, just six NFL backs logged more than 300 carries, a noticeable drop from previous years — at least nine backs topped 300 in each of the previous seven seasons (see chart).

In Seattle, Holmgren said that sharing is caring when it comes to keeping a pair of shorter backs in top working order.

"It'll certainly help our football team if I can keep them both fresh and somewhat healthy through the course of the season by doing it this way," he said.

That wasn't Seattle's approach with Alexander. He averaged 330 carries in his five most productive seasons with the Seahawks. He ran more than 325 times in three years and carried a league-high 370 times in his MVP season, then hobbled his way through the next two seasons. A broken foot in 2006 cost him six games. He played through a broken wrist in 2007 before being shelved for three games in November because of a sprained knee.

In the same week in March, Seattle signed free agents Jones and T.J. Duckett, whose role is still taking shape and could see time at halfback. The team released Alexander in April.

Was Morris worried about his future with the franchise?

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"No," Morris said. "I approach everything pretty much the same. Just go out there, work hard, and do what I've got to do. Just stay positive."

Morris is a speedy back with a steady demeanor, and after six years as Alexander's backup, his role is about to expand. The reserved Morris admits that's an exciting prospect.

"No doubt," he said. "Anybody in the NFL, as long as you've got a chance to play more, of course you're going to get excited. That's what you're here for. I'm definitely looking forward to it, but I'm approaching it the same way I've always approached it."

Jones is coming from a situation in Dallas where he saw his role gradually recede to Marion Barber. He said Sunday he's not even thinking about the specifics of his role with the Seahawks.

"That's really not on my mind right now," Jones said. "It's really not. I'm new here. I'm still learning the offense, and things will work themselves out. But that's so far from my head right now."

Jones was drafted by Dallas in the second round in 2004, gained more than 800 yards in each of his first three seasons and gained 1,084 yards in 2006. Even then, the distribution of carries between Jones and Barber was a question in Dallas.

As the Cowboys prepared to play the Seahawks in a wild-card round playoff game that year, then-Cowboys coach Bill Parcells was asked whether Jones or Barber could be an every-down back.

"That's a difficult question because if I say no, then I'm minimizing their ability," Parcells said. "And if I say yes, and say, 'OK, I'm going to do that with the player,' I'm probably going to minimize his career.

"There are some special backs in the league that can handle 350, 400 carries a year. Those players are a rare exception. They are not the rule."

And that will not be the role for Jones or Morris this season. At least not if Holmgren follows through on his plan to split time between them.

"The question will come up later I'm sure, how many snaps and this and that," Holmgren said. "I'm not going to them. I'm just going to play it that way."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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That has become an unofficial motto in backfields across the NFL, as there were fewer backs in 2007 who carried more than 300 times than at any time since 1999:
Year NFL leader Carries 300 backs* 350 backs**
2007 Clinton Portis, Wash. 325 6 0
2006 Larry Johnson, Chiefs 416 9 1
2005 Shaun Alexander, Seahawks 370 10 4
2004 Curtis Martin, Jets 371 9 3
2003 Ricky Williams, Dolphins 392 13 4
2002 Ricky Williams, Saints 383 9 2
2001 Stephen Davis, Panthers 356 10 1
2000 Eddie George, Titans 403 9 3
1999 Edgerrin James, Colts 369 6 2
1998 Jamal Anderson, Falcons 410 11 3
1997 Jerome Bettis, Steelers 375 6 3
* Number of running backs with more than 300 carries ** Number of running backs with more than 350 carries

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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