SEAHAWKS: It's all downhill for Duckett - in more ways than one

RENTON – By all accounts, Seattle Seahawks running back T.J. Duckett competently fulfilled his assigned role last season as the team’s short-yardage and goal line runner.

He only finished with 172 yards, but also totaled eight touchdowns. And Duckett was at his best when duty called on third- and fourth-and-short.

After struggling to convert first downs in short yardage situations a year before Duckett’s arrival, the Seahawks were much better in those situations in 2008. The Seahawks converted on all four of its fourth-down running plays last season of 2 yards or less, and 75 percent of the team’s rushing plays on third down when needing 2 yards or less.

While satisfied with how he performed in a limited role last year, Duckett, talking with reporters at the end of the team’s organized team activities on Thursday, said that he’s pleased with his expanded role in the new Seattle offense, thanks to being reunited with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

Duckett had his best success since arriving in the NFL playing for Knapp-led offenses. In Knapp’s first year in charge of the offense in Atlanta, Duckett averaged a career-high 4.9 yards a carry.

“I’m just rejuvenated being able to play another year of football,” said the 28-year-old Duckett. “That’s all that matters. And every year you have to get better than the year before. It definitely helps knowing the offense better, and knowing some of the personnel. But this is a whole new year for everybody. So we’ve put the past away, and started building for a new season this year.

“I love the scheme. I love the style. They’ve used me in the past in certain situations, so they know how to use me and where I can be best at, so that’s nothing but positive.”

While Duckett hopes for similar success to his experience in Atlanta, a few things have changed since last season.For one, Duckett has let his beard grow. It’s gotten so long and gnarly that teammates have started to pay homage to Duckett by labeling him with a name shared by an infamous mixed marshal arts fighter.

“They call him Kimbo Slice in there, so I’ll leave it at that I guess,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, when asked what he thought of Duckett’s beard.

“I might cut it pretty soon, but I got attached to it,” Duckett said, noting that it cushions the area around his chin strap.

Duckett also changed his number from 42 to 44. Duckett said No. 44 was the number he wanted when he came out of Michigan State and joined the Falcons, but veteran Bob Christian already had it.

At 6-foot, 254 pounds, Duckett will be the bruiser in Seattle’s backfield combo, along with the more elusive Julius Jones.

Offensive lineman Ray Willis talked about blocking for Duckett: “He’s definitely a hard runner. He’s somebody who gets downhill and is a one-cut guy. But he also has a little bit of a wiggle and a little bit of speed. He brings a lot to this scheme.”

Duckett says things are going well, as the team transitions to a zone blocking system during the offseason, and that the new system fits his style of running as a one-cut runner.

“We have a great chemistry, not only on the field but off the field as well,” Duckett said. “And you put all of that together with the skill and talent they have, I mean those guys bust their hump every day, and they work hard every day. That motivates us. And they’re the driving force behind all of this.”

Extra points

The Seahawks practiced for a little less than 90 minutes on Thursday, which included a two-minute drill session. The team will continue offseason workouts through May, with the rookies returning on May 17. A mandatory minicamp is scheduled June 10-12, and the first day of training camp is tentatively scheduled for July 31. ... Hasselbeck said he’s getting a better feel for both calling and running the offense after the first month or so working on the field. “I certainly can improve on getting it out of my mouth and saying it in the huddle with more confidence quicker, and making quicker decisions out there,” he said. ... Team sources disputed a report that recently released Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones was scheduled for a visit this week. Jones started at left tackle for the Bengals, for seven seasons, and the Seahawks may be looking to add offensive tackle depth with Walter Jones still rehabbing from microfracture surgery on his left knee. General manager Tim Ruskell has said he expects Jones back for training camp in July.