KIRKLAND, Wash. – Tim Ruskell doesn't believe in tinkering. There's really no such word as "adjustment" and no such phrase as "minor change" in the vocabulary of the president of the Seattle Seahawks football operations.
In Ruskell's world, there's status quo and complete overhaul. The space between the pair is as thick as onion-skin paper. Be it falling in love with Seattle after spending close to 30 years of his life in Florida or the decision to move the Seahawks' long-time training facility in suburban Kirkland for a monstrous, high-end facility alongside Lake Washington in Renton, Ruskell embraces change the way most people embrace their children.
"Sometimes what you have to do is just start over and completely change what you're doing," Ruskell said. "We did that with our safety position last season when we felt we were having so many problems with big plays at the end of games in 2006. Two new starters there, added another coach, revamped what we were doing and I think it worked for us.
"This year, we felt we had to do the same thing with our running game, completely redo it."
Considering that, running back Julius Jones may be the perfect fit for what Ruskell is now trying to do with the Seattle running game. Jones is the centerpiece of a drastic rebuilding project which includes an addition and shakeup in the starting offensive line, and a new O-line coach.
And just as significant, the Seahawks got rid of 2005 NFL MVP Shaun Alexander in the process. Alexander set a league record for touchdowns that season on the way to leading Seattle to its only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Jones pays dutiful respect to Alexander's accomplishments. But, like Ruskell, Jones is a man who seeks change, particularly after spending four years splitting time with the Dallas Cowboys.
Raised in the coal-mining region of Virginia, Jones' parents, Thomas and Betty, encouraged each of their seven children to go to college and instilled in them the idea of finding something different.
"They definitely didn't want us to be stuck around the house," Jones said. "They did everything they could to make sure we were in the best situation to go experience things on our own. So this is another experience for me. It's way away from home. I don't think they want me this far away. But I'm blessed to be out here."
In getting here, Jones has dealt with his own set of trials. At Notre Dame, he went from being academically ineligible in 2002 to returning to the school and being named the team's Most Valuable Player the next.
During Jones' year away from Notre Dame, he stayed with his older brother Thomas in Arizona. Thomas Jones was struggling through another difficult season after being the No. 7 overall pick by the Cardinals in 2000. Thomas was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, where he revitalized his career, eventually signed with the Chicago Bears and then was traded last year to the New York Jets, who gave him a new contract in the process.
Conversely, Julius Jones experienced personal success early on, his rushing yardage slightly increasing in his second (993) and third (1,084) seasons. However, he was second fiddle to Marion Barber last year and had a career-low 187 touches.
"All of that helped me because that's the business part of it and you have to understand it," said Jones, who had 819 yards in eight games as a rookie in 2004. "With Thomas, watching what he went through in Arizona, being drafted by a bad team and then them saying things about him, it makes you understand.
"It was the same thing (for me) in Dallas. When business wants to go a different direction, there's nothing you can do about it. You can complain and make yourself look like a (jerk), but I'm not all about that. That's not my style. You take it on the chin and keep moving. There are some parts where I get upset, but everything happens for a reason. I came out here to Seattle and we play Thanksgiving in Dallas. As far as words go, I'll keep all the words to myself at this point and let my actions do the talking."
What Ruskell, who has worked to double the number of players who stay in the area for the offseason program and put together a slick color brochure on the team to help sell free agents on joining, sees in Jones is a pounding runner who hits the hole quickly and definitively. Coincidentally, two of Jones' best games were at Seattle, a 198-yard, three-touchdown game in 2004 and a 112-yard performance in the 2006 playoffs – both under the guidance of Bill Parcells, who stepped down last offseason and was replaced with Wade Phillips.
"I think playing for Bill Parcells in Dallas really helped bring out the best in Julius and he'll tell you that," Ruskell said. "That's what he talked about with us when we brought him in as a free agent.
"Julius ran really hard and took advantage of what that line was trying to do in Dallas. With what we're trying to do in changing our running game, I think that fits."
While Ruskell won't say it, one of the main criticisms of Alexander was that he often took too long to make a decision on where to run. Earlier in his career, Alexander could afford to do that because Seattle had the tandem of Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones on the left side of the line.
When Hutchinson left as a free agent after the 2005 season when Seattle didn't put the franchise tag on him (a move Ruskell refuses to second-guess), Alexander's style was no longer as effective. On top of that, Alexander was hurt. He missed nine games the past two years and saw his per-carry average drop from 5.1 yards in 2005 to 3.6 the past two years. He also went from 27 touchdowns in 2005 to 11 total the past two years.
"Shaun did a wonderful job for us, but sometimes you just have to move on, make a break from what you've done in the past," Ruskell said.
But this is not simply about changing starting backs. The Seahawks also have signed running back T.J. Duckett, and shuffled the offensive line – bringing in Mike Wahle to start at left guard and moving Rob Sims to right guard (15-year veteran and long-time starter Chris Gray is now a backup). Finally, Mike Solari, who was fired as offensive coordinator by the Kansas City Chiefs, was brought in to coach the offensive line.
Solari ran the great offensive lines the Chiefs had earlier this decade that allowed running backs Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson to flourish. In the month since the Seahawks started offseason work, people within the organization rave about how Solari has helped with teaching and technical work, such as picking up blitzes.
It's all part of what the Seahawks hope will take them back to the Super Bowl.
"It's a complete change in the culture and style of what we're doing," Ruskell said. "I believe that's what you have to do."
- Tim Ruskell
- Julius Jones