By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND – After nine weeks of rehabilitating a cracked right shoulder, Seattle Seahawks running back Ricky Watters will be back on the practice field Wednesday.
As far as coach Mike Holmgren is concerned, that’s the easy part. Now he’s got to decide what to do with him.
Holmgren said there is a possibility Watters might be available for Sunday’s game at Denver, although he said next week’s home date with the Dallas Cowboys is a more realistic target.
Whenever Watters comes back, Holmgren will have to make a decision as to whom he will start at running back.
“I’ve purposely pushed this away, trying to think about other things,” Holmgren said, “but eventually I guess I’ve got to decide, huh?”
That time has just about come. Holmgren said he will sit down Watters and current starter Shaun Alexander this week to discuss the situation. And then Holmgren will have to pick a starter.
“I’m glad I’m not the guy making the decision,” fullback Mack Strong said. “But whoever starts, both of them will play quite a bit, I assume. They’re both excellent backs. Two’s better than one. Our backfield is going to be much improved with the return of Ricky Watters.”
The arguments on both sides are convincing.
Watters was the starter at the beginning of the season, and the general rule in sports is that a starter can’t lose his job due to injury. Besides, he has been the Seahawks’ most important offensive player the past two seasons and is considered a possible future Hall of Famer.
Then there’s Alexander, who took over for Watters in Week 4 and quickly rose up the AFC rushing charts. He currently ranks third in the conference, needing just 19 yards to surpass the 1,000-yard milestone. Alexander has been the focus of the offense since entering the starting lineup, and opposing defenses have developed game plans designed to stop him.
Both running backs are very deserving to be starters, but it’s highly unlikely Holmgren will put them in the same backfield to start a game.
“It’s going to be important in how the two principals handle it,” Holmgren said. “We have Shaun and Ricky: a guy who’s just starting his career and a guy going to the Hall of Fame. They’re both very outstanding players. They’re both wanting the ball – a lot. I think the most important thing is how those two react to whatever decision we make. The rest of the fellows, we’re just trying to win a game.
“They have a lot of pride. They’re waiting to see how we’re going to do this. And quite frankly, so am I. I haven’t figured out how we’re going to do it yet.”
Alexander obviously wants to keep his starting job, but he’s also glad to have his mentor back on the practice field.
“I’m excited to see Ricky come back,” Alexander said. “I was one of his biggest fans when he was (starting). He’s always been my biggest supporter. It’s going to be exciting when he gets back here. Who knows how it’s going to work.”
One possible scenario would be to start Alexander and bring in Watters on third downs, as the 32-year-old is a better blocker and receiver out of the backfield. But Watters’ pride might make it difficult for him to accept the role of a backup.
“Those guys are competitors,” Strong said. “What other team in the league has two backs like that? Denver would be the only team I could think of that has two Pro Bowl-caliber running backs. We’re very fortunate to have both of those guys.”
Most likely, the Seahawks’ dual running backs won’t have to split time in a game until next week. But that doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it.
“Of course I would like to (start),” Alexander said, “and of course he would like to. Coach Holmgren has a tough decision to make when he comes back. I just want to win. If we win, we’re going to forget who’s starting.”