RENTON Chris Carson hasn’t even played an NFL game. Yet the rookie already knows how to succeed in this running-back business at the pro level.
"See, the running backs, they’ve been good to me so far," the Seahawks’ seventh-round pick said this week, his second one in training camp.
"But paying for the offensive linemen at Chick Fil A? The whole offensive line? Yeah, I paid. About 400 dollars.
"That was kind of a big thing."
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Paying $400 for lunch is no big deal for an established veteran who makes millions. Carson, as a seventh-round pick, is earning $465,000 this regular season. But that pay doesn’t begin until the regular season does, in 17 game checks starting next month. For now he’s on a league per diem plus his $65,240 signing bonus. At that money $400 lunches as part of rookie duties sting a bit.
Whatever. The investment is already paying off. Behind his blockers’ tummies full of chicken, Carson has been a star of Seattle’s early preseason. His runs have been decisive, eye-opening bolts through holes.
The Seahawks knew he could run over defenders from their scouting of him at Oklahoma State.
They didn’t know until he got here how fast the 5-foot-11, 218-pound Carson is behind his powerful build.
Until a few weeks ago Doug Baldwin didn’t know Chris Carson from Johnny Carson. Baldwin usually doesn’t heap praise on just anybody, especially rookies 10 practices into their careers.
But Baldwin says this of Carson: "He just has all the tools. I think he is probably, to me, is probably the most polished of any rookie at that position that I have ever seen."
Whaaat? Seattle’s record-setting wide receiver and team leader didn’t become "Angry Doug Baldwin" because he passes cupcakes and kudos around the practice field and locker room.
Sure enough, last week immediately after one of Carson’s many impressive, one-cut-and-gone romps, Baldwin ran into the end zone to meet him.
"I wasn’t congratulating him," Baldwin said. "He was a little tired and he waved for someone else to come in and get reps.
"I told him, bluntly, ‘Get your ass back in there! You know, if you want to be part of our tribe, if you want to be part of this organization, you got to be a little bit tougher than that.’"
Baldwin said it’s not that Carson isn’t tough already.
"He is very tough. And, honestly, he is probably my favorite rookie out of the bunch right now. He has done a tremendous job," Baldwin said. "But as somebody that has been there and done that and has gone through this process, you know, I just try and egg him on to do a little bit more every time he as the ability to do so."
Who egged Baldwin on in 2011, when he was an undrafted rookie out of Stanford just trying to make the Seahawks in any role? Another decisive running back.
"Absolutely. Marshawn was notorious for that," Baldwin said. "You know, never letting anyone being complacent or be relaxed or be satisfied with their production. You always ask for more.
"Granted, the reason why people respected him was because he always gave more. That definitely started with Marshawn. I think definitely when I was here my first year he did that to me, so we all try and replicate that as best we can."
So the Seahawks’ $46 million wide receiver ripped the 22-year-old rookie to make good – really good – better.
"He has all the tools in his tool bag. He just has to put it all together," Baldwin said. "He is mature. He has the right mindset. He has the work ethic. But when you see something like that, you don’t want him to miss the opportunity. So we stay on him because we know the potential that he has, but again potential means nothing if you don’t put in emotion."
How did a guy that impresses Baldwin so much, a back so big yet so fast, fall to the last round of the draft? How did 248 other dudes get drafted before this dynamo did?
Well, Carson played just two years of major-college football. The native of Lilburn, Georgia, initially was on his way to play at the University of Georgia. Then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee nine games and 17 touchdowns into his senior year of high school.
His grades plummeted so low Georgia was no longer an option. He enrolled instead at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, population 13,000. Two starring seasons there got him a second scholarship offer from and commitment to Georgia. But he changed his mind, because UGA’s backfield was loaded. He signed with Oklahoma State.
He was so bullish running over people for the Cowboys he had nine touchdowns in just nine games of his senior year last fall. A hand injury kept him from a full final college season -- and probably a higher draft round.
None of that matters now. Carson’s task this month is to beat out 2016 draft choice Alex Collins for the Seahawks’ fourth running-back spot. Thomas Rawls is healthy for the first time in years and returns as the lead back. Former Green Bay Packers 1,100-yard rusher Eddie Lacy is pushing Rawls for the lead job or possibly splitting time; coach Pete Carroll said Friday Lacy will play Sunday in the preseason opener at the Los Angeles Chargers. Second-year speedster C.J. Prosise is at least the third-down, receiving back for 2017, if not more.
Sunday in Los Angeles will be the first test to see if Carson’s decisive running in Seattle’s less-than-full-hitting practices continue in games against defenders that are actually tackling ball carriers.
"I'm really excited about this guy. Really have high hopes for him," Carroll said. "We'll see how he does. We're just getting started. He's a very physical runner in the style that we like.
"You can't tell all of that here because we're not finishing the runs with tackling. But I know it's in his background. And we keep chirping at him. And we'll see it happen when the time comes.
"We might have a really competitive guy at that spot."
One who is $400 lighter thanks to his blockers and that Chick Fil A.
"That’s probably the worst thing, the duties that you have to go through. But, everybody’s had to go through it," Carson said of the rookie initiation. "You just got to pay your dues...
"But it’s all worth it. Those guys protect us and block for us. I’d do it again if I have to."
Then Carson added with a laugh: "But, hopefully, I don’t have to."