Seahawk Justin Forsett makes case for RB job

Justin Forsett takes a handoff in practice Aug. 19. - Matt Brashears/Renton Reporter
Justin Forsett takes a handoff in practice Aug. 19.
— image credit: Matt Brashears/Renton Reporter

Call him shifty, call him elusive. Call him lightning in a 5-foot-8 bottle.

Whatever you want to call him, just know Justin Forsett is making a strong case to crack the running back rotation in the Seattle Seahawks lineup.

Of all of the difficult situations in training camp, running back was one of the few spots seemingly set for the Seahawks. They had Julius Jones and Maurice Morris to split most of the carries. T.J. Duckett for short-yardage situations. Plus Leonard Weaver and Owen Schmidt at fullback. Five backs, not much space to keep anyone else and no need to.

Then Forsett happened. He has been juking, sprinting, spinning in camp since the start. But with his performance against the Chicago Bears on Aug. 16, Forsett is pushing himself into the limelight, and the mix at running back.

Against the Bears, Forsett rushed 15 times for 136 yards (9.1 yards per carry average) and a touchdown, added one reception for eight yards, returned two kicks for 70 yards and returned five punts for 47 yards.

“It was amazing,” Forsett said. “I was really tired though. But it was fun coming in with the home crowd.”

The team drafted Forsett out of California with the 26th pick in the seventh round. Forsett was stuck behind Marshawn Lynch at Cal in his sophomore and junior years, when he carried the ball a combined 251 times for 1,625 yards (6.4 yards per carry average) and 10 touchdowns. Once Lynch went to the NFL (drafted 12th overall by the Bills) Forsett enjoyed a huge senior season. He rushed 305 times for 1,546 yards and 15 touchdowns. Yet, even with shiny numbers in college, professional teams remained weary because of Forsett’s lack of size.

Scouts not being able to see past his 5-8 frame was nothing new for Forsett. The University of Texas decided to pass on Forsett, even though he played in the school’s own backyard, because of his size. Forsett signed a letter of intent to play at Notre Dame, but the school later withdrew his scholarship.

California head coach Jeff Tedford saw Forsett’s potential and jumped at the opportunity after Notre Dame reneged on its word.

So what does Forsett need to solidify a spot on the Seahawks?

Strength? He’s got it. Forsett bench-pressed 225 pounds 26 times at the NFL scouting combine, fourth best among all running backs.

A strong resume? It’s there. Forsett’s name is all over the California record books. He’s third on the all-time career rushing yards list with 3,171. He’s fourth in career rushing touchdowns with 26. His senior season was the second-best by yardage in Cal’s history and the tied for the best by rushing touchdowns.

Ability to perform in an NFL game? Forsett showed that and then some against the Bears. While he racked up yards against the Bears’ backups and roster hopefuls, they are still NFL-caliber players.

Other intangibles? Scouts praised Forsett’s vision, shiftiness and receiving ability before the NFL draft. But the one thing that may earn him a spot on the team is his special-teams ability.

With wide receivers Deion Branch and Bobby Engram injured, Nate Burleson becomes the number one option at that position. That means the team can’t risk Burleson returning punts anymore. Forsett has a demonstrated ability to return kicks and punts, and could take up some of the slack the injuries created.

With his status on the final roster uncertain, Forsett is trying to resist the temptation to put pressure on every single play in training camp and the preseason.

“If you start thinking like that, then your mind messes with your game,” he said. “That’s the thing about football, you’ve got to have a short memory. You’ve just got to keep going. I’ve been playing for a long time, I’m ready.”

Seattle was one of the best places Forsett could have landed.

“I was excited. That was one of the spots I told my agent I would love to go,” Forsett said. “It was a blessing. I got that phone call and Coach Holmgren was on the other side.”

Forsett had experience playing in Seattle when he visited during college for games against the University of Washington. He said the city appealed to him right fromthe start.

In addition to the city, the team’s new facility in Renton was another bonus. Just mention of the Virginia Mason Athletic Center brought a smile to Forsett’s face. He called it a “fantasy” and “awesome” while praising the view of Lake Washington. The indoor field at the VMAC is a far cry from the bubble in Kirkland.

“There’s no comparison,” he said. “It was good over there, nice and cozy. But you can get lost in this building.”

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