Seattle Seahawks

First-round pick Rashaad Penny must be Seahawks’ lead back? Did you ask Chris Carson?

Chris Carson after two impressive days as the Seahawks’ lead back again this year

Chris Carson has been the most physically impressive Seahawks player two days into training camp. He’s returning from a season-ending broken leg and ankle damage in a October.
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Chris Carson has been the most physically impressive Seahawks player two days into training camp. He’s returning from a season-ending broken leg and ankle damage in a October.

Thinking that because the Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round he will be Seattle’s lead rusher this year?

Chris Carson has something to prove to you. Again.

“My mindset is ‘Steady Hustlin,’ ” said Carson, who became the Seahawks starter at running back last year. “So I always want to come out and prove somebody wrong, because me being a seventh-round draft pick a lot of people passed me up.

“So you want to come out there and prove a lot of people wrong. My mindset is still the same way: I got to try to fit in, try to prove myself each and every day.

“You never want to get comfortable, because they’re always trying to find somebody to replace you each and every year.”

Carson’s replies are as decisive as his cuts at the line of scrimmage. Asked what his thought was when the Seahawks made Penny just the third running back they’ve ever drafted in the first round, joining Curt Warner and Shaun Alexander, Carson said without taking a breath: “More competition.”

“I’ve always had competition, ever since high school,” Carson said following training-camp practice on Friday. “Wasn’t nothing new to me. When I came here, there were five running backs, or whatever (actually Seattle had six backs this time last year: Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Alex Collins, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis) that were in front of me. So I came out each and every day.”

Came out and won Seattle’s starting running-back job as a rookie and last-round draft choice. Even before the season began he passed up Lacy. He forced Marshawn Lynch’s former heir in Rawls to the bench, then out of Seattle. He led the his team to ship Collins away to Baltimore.

Collins was averaging 4.2 yards per carry in his first four NFL games. Then in early October he broke his leg and got severe ankle-ligament damage during the Seahawks’ home win over Indianapolis. His soaring Seahawks debut crash-landed.

With him out for the season, Seattle’s running backs ended up averaging 3.1 yards per rush and scored but a single touchdown on the ground. It was by far the most anemic performance by a team’s running backs in many NFL seasons.

So in April, with Carson still recovering from the injuries, the Seahawks drafted Penny first. They did so while ignoring many other pressing needs, such as pass rushers, cover men in the secondary and depth on the offensive and defensive lines.

To Carson, so what?

“Just another guy,” Carson said of Penny. “I welcome him with open arms—and compete still.”

Through two practices and Saturday’s first off day of training camp, Carson is so far ahead of where he was at any point in his impressive rookie year. And he’s clearly ahead of Penny.

Carson has been the most physically impressive Seahawk on either side of the ball. He’s not running as much as he is gliding. And this is a thoroughbred. He gained 10 pounds while rehabilitating this offseason. He’s listed at 5-11, 220 pounds. But he’s moving faster and looking leaner yet more formidable than that.

“He has been remarkably fit,” coach Pete Carroll said.

Then the coach gushed Carson is “a beautiful looking athlete out here.”

“My offseason program I was doing a lot of stuff towards my lower body to make sure my ligaments were good,” Carson said. “My strength coach in Dallas and up here, they try to help me out when it comes to my balance. I ended up putting on 10 pounds on of muscle so I feel a lot more solid.”

He’s been the No.-1 running back throughout offseason organized team activities, last month’s minicamp and training camp so far. Penny has been the distinct number two. Prosise is back healthy for now to run and catch passes. Davis seems to be battling the versatile McKissic for a roster spot.

Why is this a big deal to the Seahawks’ 2018?

Carroll had seen enough in 2017. He despised his pass-heavy team with quarterback Russell Wilson leading the run game with more than twice as many yards rushing as any other Seahawk, throwing for 3,900 yards and leading the NFL with 34 touchdown passes—because no running resulted in Seattle failing to make the playoffs last season. It was the first time Seattle wasn’t in the postseason in six years.

Three days after the season-ending loss at home to Arizona in a New Year’s Ever shootout, Carroll vowed his first and last priority this year is to return the Seahawks’ offense to the power running game. That’s what it was in the Super Bowl seasons of 2013 and ‘14 with Lynch.

Carroll fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell plus line coach and running-game coordinator Tom Cable. He hired Brian Schottenheimer, who has coached a top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL with the New York Jets, as his new play caller. He hired Mike Solari to replace Cable and change Seattle’s blocking scheme away from the angles and smoke and mirrors of zone blocking to a far more aggressive, straight-ahead, man-on-man, drive-his-face-into-the-turf approach.

Hence, all the focus on who is going to be the lead runner to be the main man to carry out all of Carroll’s new-old plans.

So far, Carson is back seizing the job. Again.

On Friday, Carroll continued his verbal love-in with Carson he started 15 months ago, within the hour of drafting him out of Oklahoma State in the final moments of the 2017 draft.

“Chris has known, from the day that we first connected with him prior to the draft last year, my interest in him,” Carroll said. “I was real excited about getting him on our team, and so he knows. He knows I think a lot of him and the style and what he brings. We just had to be patient. We had to just go through that terrible late waiting period and be patient through it...

“He’s just worked so hard and so well conditioned and so strong that he really, he’s tearing it up. And so we’re real excited about it. Where we left off, he was just getting going last year and I think he would’ve been a very impacting football player on our team and we missed him, terribly.

“But he’s picked up and he’s way ahead of where he was.”

Coach Pete Carroll talks about what he’s seen through two days of a very new and different Seahawks training camp.

Your dog can see how explosively and decisively he runs with the ball, often galloping over and past defenders like a horse does shrubs. But the most decisive edge Carson has over Penny and the rest of the Seahawks’ running backs is the inside-the-numbers reason why Carson won the lead job last September. Seattle’s coaches love how physical and sound he is in the passing game.

And not just in catching the ball. The Seahawks have Prosise out of the backfield for that, at least when the scratch for 21 of his first 32 NFL regular-season games can stay healthy. Carson excels in picking up the line’s protection calls from Wilson and center Justin Britt, before the snap, processing it, going the right way and stonewalling edge rushers.

Carroll wants Schottenheimer to be able to make any call in Seattle’s playbook, run or pass, when his lead back is on the field.

Ask Carroll what set Carson apart last year and made him the surprise starting back, Carroll didn’t hesitate.

“His awareness of pass protections and what’s going on scheme-wise,” the coach said. “The running game has not been an issue for him. It’s just tough for a first year guy to learn. He didn’t get the benefit of the full season and all of those lessons, but he’s done a really nice job in the offseason. He’s picked up where he left off and he’s a very good blocker.”

That’s something Penny wasn’t asked to do at San Diego State while he was rushing for 2,300 yards with 23 touchdowns last season in the Aztecs’ power-running, I-formation offense. And because the Seahawks have yet to be in full pads since the final game of last season eight months ago, Penny hasn’t even pass blocked in an NFL practice yet.

The sooner Penny can pick up the protection calls, the closer he will close the gap between him and Carson for the lead running-back job. If the rookie is going one way while opposing pass rushers are storming free another place during the preseason games that begin Aug. 9 against the Colts, Carson is going to win the top job. Easily.

Carroll said of pass blocking while talking about his running backs: “It’ll keep a guy off the field if he can’t do it.”

And he said of Carson: “Remember, we’ve always talked about Chris as a very well-rounded player. He can run, he can catch the football, he can run good routes in and out of the backfield, and he is a very equipped blocker. He’s a very, very special guy for special teams, too.

“He does everything right, so he’s an exciting part of our team.”

Not one that sounds destined for a secondary role just because a first-round pick has arrived in Seattle’s backfield.

“I am confident in myself,” he said. “Did I think I was going to play as much as I did last year? No. I wasn’t preparing for that.

“But at the same time I knew that what I believe my ability is, I knew I was going to get on the field a little bit. It wasn’t too much of a shock.

Now?

“I feel much more comfortable,” Carson said, “than I was coming in last year.”

SECONDARY DU JOUR

The starting secondary in Friday’s second practice of camp was a tad different, as expected: Bradley McDougald at free safety with Earl Thomas now through two days of his holdout, Delano Hill at strong safety, Shaquill Griffin at left cornerback and Byron Maxwell at right cornerback.

McDougald was the strong safety and Tedric Thompson was the free safety Thursday.

Carroll said it’s likely to be into perhaps next weekend before former Los Angeles Rams starter Maurice Alexander makes his practice debut at strong safety.

EXTRA POINTS

All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has been going light in the first camp practices to rest an unspecified pain. That’s given Emmanuel Beal, an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma, some first-team time. ... For the second straight day Sebastian Janikowski made all three of his field goals in team scrimmaging, from 33, 38 and 48 yards. For the second consecutive practice Jason Myers made two of his three attempts from the same distances. ... David Moore, a fellow seventh-round pick with Carson last year, has looked sharp running routes and catching passes outside his body frame in camp. ... The team took Saturday off, will practice Monday and Tuesday then be off Wednesday.

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