The New England Patriots teams that won three Super Bowls in four seasons in the early part of the new millennium were as good at mixing specialization and versatility as any team in recent memory. Receiver Troy Brown proved to be a willing and able defensive back in tight situations, and linebacker Mike Vrabel was one of Tom Brady’s best red zone targets for a number of years.
For the Seattle Seahawks of 2010, where a roster sheet in hand is mandatory to know who you’re talking to after one of the biggest roster purges in franchise history, double duty is now a necessity.
As the team gets ready to welcome the San Francisco 49ers to Qwest Field Sunday, two possible starting offensive tackles (left tackle Chester Pitts and right tackle Stacy Andrews) have experience at guard as well. New running back Michael Robinson, recently cut by the 49ers, has played positions from special teams stud to blocking fullback to option quarterback. Jordan Babineaux, who has played many defensive back positions for the Seahawks in the last few seasons, is back on the active roster after a brief trip to the practice squad.
Head coach Pete Carroll said this sort of versatility will be a hallmark in the short term as several positions are defined with new blood. If you ask Carroll and general manager John Schneider, this team is more talented, but that doesn’t mean the setup is cohesive. That makes players with familiar skill sets who fit different roles all the more important. Robinson is just such a player, as he fits Carroll’s USC modus operandi of using backs in different types of situations.
“Yeah, he’s a very versatile football player,” Carroll said. “You see him in a lot of different settings. I’m always looking for guys that have unique qualities about them, and we’ll try to suit them to our offense and defense. Mike was certainly one of those guys. He’ll be part of this game plan; he’ll be playing for us this week.”
Robinson, a quarterback at Penn State, was happy about being on a team with less traditional halfback/fullback roles. The Seahawks may run Robinson and Quinton Ganther as “move” fullbacks, or use Leon Washington in certain packages where extra blocking is needed. But Robinson is ready to help however he can.
“I have a unique set of skills with the ball because I played quarterback,” he told Seattle media before practice. “I can do some different things, and be a special teams ace. I want to go to the Pro Bowl in special teams this year. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m willing to do.”
Of course, Robinson is also another addition to a running back rotation that is packed at the halfback position, but not as productive (3.36 yards per carry and just one touchdown on 80 carries) as the coaches might like. Among Justin Forsett, Leon Washington and Julius Jones, the competition is still wide open going into the season. Forsett is the starter, but that’s in name only. He’ll also return punts, while Washington will return kickoffs.
“It would be nice to have it all set in stone and all that, for everyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with this, but I’m absolutely not uncomfortable with this situation,” Carroll said. “It’s the situation I’ve been in for year with tailbacks, and we’re going to try to draw out the very best we can from our guys. If a guy gets hot in a game, he’s staying. If it changes from that, then we’ll adjust. But I have no problem with that at all.”
In an offseason of full-scale change, that may be the only constant.