The Seattle Seahawks offense is heavily reliant on the running game to set up the pass and that's not expected to change this year as they enter training camp with potentially a new starting quarterback in Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson, two young quarterbacks that can't carry the team just yet.
However, lead back Marshawn Lynch was recently arrested for DUI, making him a multiple offender since entering the NFL, and consequently has clouded the running back situation. Lynch's arrest may lead to a suspension, resulting in rookie Robert Turbin being placed in the spotlight earlier than expected.
At Utah State University, Turbin set a record for yards in a season on two occasions and had several impressive plays throughout his career. He had issues with injuries, however, which slowed down his progress as a runner. As NFL Draft Scout notes, Turbin had a foot injury in 2007 and missed the length of the 2010 season with a torn ACL.
Despite setbacks, Turbin finished his career on a strong note by rushing for more than 1,500 yards at six yards a carry and 19 touchdowns, all the while raising his stock by displaying multiple traits that NFL personnel men look for in the running back position.
Checking in at roughly 5'10" and 222 pounds at the Combine, Turbin possesses ideal size because he's built low to the ground yet has the bulk that should enable him to deal with the beating of the position.
He also ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, but this is misleading as he plays faster in pads and has good build up speed that allows him to run away from defenders. He also has a good burst to the hole and deceptive quickness that enables him to turn the corner when outside the numbers, as can be seen against Texas A&M in the video. He takes advantage of the cornerbacks' leverage and runs out to the sideline before turning it upfield and running away from the defense.
While watching Turbin's games at Utah State, I observed many good characteristics that suggested he could transition to the NFL if he went to the right situation. When the Seattle Seahawks selected him in the fourth round, it was the ideal fit because of the way they embrace his running style.
Turbin is very strong in his upper body, which was confirmed by his 28 bench reps at the Combine, and is able to shake off would-be tacklers.
When he gets his shoulders squared and gets downhill, which he'll be able to do on the Seahawks Lead and Power plays that we've grown accustomed to seeing Marshawn Lynch run, he is difficult to stop because of his blend of size and speed.
He also has solid vision and instincts in the open field, where he's often able to find and attack the vacant areas in order to pick up additional yardage. Moreover, although he is sometimes easily tripped up at his ankles in open field, he does a good job of keeping his feet churning to move the pile forward prior to him being tackled.
In addition to his running ability, Turbin was effective as a pass catcher. When running routes into the flats or screen passes, he displayed solid hands and ability to do damage after the catch.
He didn't only catch passes when the Utah State offense decided to drop back, he blocked as well. He did an OK job when given blocking assignments, which were relatively simple by simply asking him to execute chips and base blocks on pass rushers and blitzing defenders in the B.O.B (back on backer) blocking scheme.
You may be wondering why Turbin slipped to the fourth round if he has all these quality traits?
One reason is his aforementioned injury history. Another is because he runs with high pad level, which leaves him exposed to contact. This is particularly an issue at the point of attack, where he fails to lower his shoulder in short yardage situations.
He also lacks great vision. I noted earlier that he had solid vision in the open field, which is true, but he does not have the ability to find the cutback lane with consistency when approaching the line of scrimmage. He's primarily a front-side runner, which means he runs in the direction the play was developed ("play-side").
This is not necessarily a bad thing nor is it a significant detriment to his running ability. There are good ball carriers who are primarily front-side runners, such as Brandon Jacobs of the San Francisco 49ers and New England's Stevan Ridley, but it's important to note as a reason why he was knocked down draft boards. Running backs that can run front-side and back-side are very valuable and typically drafted higher, sans exceptions such as Ahmad Bradshaw who went in the 7th round.
Last but not least, Turbin lacks great agility. He is not able to make sharp cuts and explode off his lead foot consistently, instead often settling for jump cuts from hole to hole. Like his front-side running, it's not a grand issue when it comes to his running style. One recent example of a successful runner that also utilized jump cuts effectively was Thomas Jones, who was a good ball carrier in the NFL for five teams.
Can Robert Turbin fill Lynch's role?
Despite the knock, he's a good fit in Seattle's offense because of its downhill running style. General manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll look for bruising runners that make one cut and get downhill, which Turbin does.
Turbin is most likely to be eased into the offense by splitting carries with Leon Washington until Marshawn Lynch is back in the fold. It's uncertain how long Lynch will be gone because he is a repeat offender. It's possible he receives double the games that he received the previous suspension, which was 3 games in 2009. Regardless, Turbin has the talent to make an impact and be an effective contributor in Lynch's absence.