Seahawks RB Leon Washington eager to resume dynamic role

RENTON, Wash. — It was a simple zone running play. Jets running back Leon Washington took the handoff and got held up in traffic. Then Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly fell across the back of his right leg, and Washington’s world suddenly became complicated.

Leon Washington's broken leg is nearly fully healed, but he's being held out of team drills this week as a precaution.
Leon Washington’s broken leg is nearly fully healed, but he’s being held out of team drills this week as a precaution.

He heard a pop and thought he had torn his ACL. But when he felt his leg dangling, he suspected he had broken his leg — a diagnosis doctors confirmed in the X-ray room at the Oakland Coliseum last Oct. 25.

"You think about a broken leg and you automatically think about Joe Theismann," Washington said, referring to the former Redskins quarterback whose NFL career ended during a 1985 Monday night game when a sack by Lawrence Taylor resulted in a grotesque compound leg fracture.

Washington suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula. He was rushed to a hospital, where a metal rod was inserted in his leg during surgery that ended about the same time the Jets-Raiders game did. Then he began the long rehab process.

Washington’s story took another twist on April 24, the final day of the NFL draft, when the Jets traded him to Seattle. So in addition to trying to come back from a career-threatening injury, Washington now finds himself three time zones from New York on a new team and in a new conference.

"The positive out of this is I had a chance to sit back and look at football from a different perspective," Washington said Wednesday after the Seahawks concluded a two-day minicamp that wrapped up their offseason. "How fortunate we are to play this game. It’s my fifth year, and I feel like I was just a rookie a few days ago. That’s how fast it goes.

"Also, I feel like I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in, because I’ve been in a training mode since last October."

Washington’s rehab here has included lifting weights, pushing sleds and running up and down the 45-degree hill that borders the Seahawks’ practice field. Sometimes, he has placed cones on the hill and cut side to side.

Washington caught the attention of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll last season when Carroll watched Mark Sanchez, his former quarterback at USC, play for the Jets.

"I love the way he plays the game," Carroll said of Washington. "I got to see him and thought he was a dynamic player—running, catching, returns. If he’s able to add to our offense, I think that’s a big plus for us."

Although he is only 5-8, Washington is a multiple threat with the ball in his hands. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2008, his third year in the NFL, and led the league in combined yards (2,332) that season.

"Like all good running backs in this league, he can make the first guy miss," CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots said. "He’s been great on special teams and catching the ball out of the backfield, running screens and quick flare-outs. That’s kind of what you want. You don’t really want to use him as an inside runner."

The Seahawks likely will use Washington as a third-down back early this season, then gradually integrate him into the running game with Julius Jones, Justin Forsett and Quinton Ganther. Washington believes he can be a big contributor if he’s utilized right.

"I don’t see myself carrying the ball 30 times a game," he said, "but give me 12 to 15 carries and eight or nine catches, and I can have the same production as a lead back."

With both Jones (renewing his wedding vows) and Forsett (on his honeymoon) missing from this week’s minicamp, it would have been an opportune time for Washington to get some work. But even though X-rays on Tuesday showed his leg has just about completely healed, he was held out of team work and participated only in individual drills.

The Seahawks likely will continue to take a cautious approach with Washington when training camp opens on July 31. "My time will come," Washington said. "And when I get the opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it."

Running game will stay in committee

The Seahawks don’t have a prototypical feature back on their current roster. Unless they trade for one — say, Marshawn Lynch —they’ll operate with a running backs by committee approach in 2010. "We played a lot of running backs the last nine years (at USC)," Seahawks first-year coach Pete Carroll said. "I have no problem with mixing guys and going with who’s hot."

These players could comprise the committee:

Julius Jones. The former Cowboy needs to step up his performance after two mostly disappointing seasons in Seattle.

Justin Forsett. He rushed for 619 yards and four TDs last season—impressive for a former seventh-round draft pick.

Quinton Ganther. Maybe reuniting with running backs coach Sherman Smith, who coached Ganther in Tennessee and Washington, will light a fire for Ganther.

Leon Washington. If he is fully recovered from a broken leg, Washington can be a multi-dimensional back.

Louis Rankin. He has good size (6-1, 205) but not much experience.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

RENTON, Wash. — It was a simple zone running play. Jets running back Leon Washington took the handoff and got held up in traffic. Then Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly fell across the back of his right leg, and Washington’s world suddenly became complicated.

Leon Washington's broken leg is nearly fully healed, but he's being held out of team drills this week as a precaution.
Leon Washington’s broken leg is nearly fully healed, but he’s being held out of team drills this week as a precaution.

He heard a pop and thought he had torn his ACL. But when he felt his leg dangling, he suspected he had broken his leg — a diagnosis doctors confirmed in the X-ray room at the Oakland Coliseum last Oct. 25.

"You think about a broken leg and you automatically think about Joe Theismann," Washington said, referring to the former Redskins quarterback whose NFL career ended during a 1985 Monday night game when a sack by Lawrence Taylor resulted in a grotesque compound leg fracture.

Washington suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula. He was rushed to a hospital, where a metal rod was inserted in his leg during surgery that ended about the same time the Jets-Raiders game did. Then he began the long rehab process.

Washington’s story took another twist on April 24, the final day of the NFL draft, when the Jets traded him to Seattle. So in addition to trying to come back from a career-threatening injury, Washington now finds himself three time zones from New York on a new team and in a new conference.

"The positive out of this is I had a chance to sit back and look at football from a different perspective," Washington said Wednesday after the Seahawks concluded a two-day minicamp that wrapped up their offseason. "How fortunate we are to play this game. It’s my fifth year, and I feel like I was just a rookie a few days ago. That’s how fast it goes.

"Also, I feel like I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in, because I’ve been in a training mode since last October."

Washington’s rehab here has included lifting weights, pushing sleds and running up and down the 45-degree hill that borders the Seahawks’ practice field. Sometimes, he has placed cones on the hill and cut side to side.

Washington caught the attention of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll last season when Carroll watched Mark Sanchez, his former quarterback at USC, play for the Jets.

"I love the way he plays the game," Carroll said of Washington. "I got to see him and thought he was a dynamic player—running, catching, returns. If he’s able to add to our offense, I think that’s a big plus for us."

Although he is only 5-8, Washington is a multiple threat with the ball in his hands. He was selected to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2008, his third year in the NFL, and led the league in combined yards (2,332) that season.

"Like all good running backs in this league, he can make the first guy miss," CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots said. "He’s been great on special teams and catching the ball out of the backfield, running screens and quick flare-outs. That’s kind of what you want. You don’t really want to use him as an inside runner."

The Seahawks likely will use Washington as a third-down back early this season, then gradually integrate him into the running game with Julius Jones, Justin Forsett and Quinton Ganther. Washington believes he can be a big contributor if he’s utilized right.

"I don’t see myself carrying the ball 30 times a game," he said, "but give me 12 to 15 carries and eight or nine catches, and I can have the same production as a lead back."

With both Jones (renewing his wedding vows) and Forsett (on his honeymoon) missing from this week’s minicamp, it would have been an opportune time for Washington to get some work. But even though X-rays on Tuesday showed his leg has just about completely healed, he was held out of team work and participated only in individual drills.

The Seahawks likely will continue to take a cautious approach with Washington when training camp opens on July 31. "My time will come," Washington said. "And when I get the opportunity, I’ll take advantage of it."

Running game will stay in committee

The Seahawks don’t have a prototypical feature back on their current roster. Unless they trade for one — say, Marshawn Lynch —they’ll operate with a running backs by committee approach in 2010. "We played a lot of running backs the last nine years (at USC)," Seahawks first-year coach Pete Carroll said. "I have no problem with mixing guys and going with who’s hot."

These players could comprise the committee:

Julius Jones. The former Cowboy needs to step up his performance after two mostly disappointing seasons in Seattle.

Justin Forsett. He rushed for 619 yards and four TDs last season—impressive for a former seventh-round draft pick.

Quinton Ganther. Maybe reuniting with running backs coach Sherman Smith, who coached Ganther in Tennessee and Washington, will light a fire for Ganther.

Leon Washington. If he is fully recovered from a broken leg, Washington can be a multi-dimensional back.

Louis Rankin. He has good size (6-1, 205) but not much experience.

Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at ddillon@sportingnews.com.

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