The Seahawks just (re)discovered two running backs.
Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise, welcome back to prominence.
Penny, the first-round draft choice criticized more than bad coffee around Seattle, showed what he can do playing behind starting linemen, for a change. He ran past defenders. He caught passes and made yards without any blocking, running around tacklers. On a fourth-down touchdown run from the 3-yard line, he ran through them.
Then Prosise re-emerged.
The tantalizing, frustrating third-round draft choice from 2016 has had 10 different health issues in three season plus this training camp with the Seahawks. Heck, he even missed the first day of this preseason’s camp because he was sick.
Saturday, he ran slickly for a first down. Then he bulldozed for a touchdown. And he didn’t get hurt.
Penny’s rebound Prosise’s brilliant flash in the second quarter led Seattle to a 23-15 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in its third preseason game on a warm So Cal Saturday night.
“It was a really good night for C.J.,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s been such a struggle for him.”
Yes, it was way more than just an exhibition game for Prosise.
“It’s definitely a return,” said the running back who has had 10 injuries in three-plus years in the NFL, all with the patient Seahawks. “It’s my first game I’ve played in almost, really, a year. It’s definitely a return.”
Carroll appreciated Seattle’s return to what it led the league in last season: running the ball. After two preseason games more throwing it, the Seahawks gained 185 yards on the ground. The starting line plowed for Chris Carson, Penny, Prosise and even quarterback Russell Wilson for 125 yards on 21 runs in the first half.
“This game worked out really well for us. We had some objectives that we wanted to attend to. We really wanted to run the football,” Carroll said.
“We were really happy to get that done. ... Just what we had hoped.”
Wilson completed 6 of 9 passes, just as he did last weekend in his first preseason action at Minnesota. He had 73 yards and a passer rating of 91.4. He also ran three times for 31 yards, yet we can debate the wisdom of those runs by the $140 million franchise quarterback in a game that doesn’t count.
For the preseason, Wilson has completed 12 of 18 throws for 155 yards and a passer rating of 93.5.
That’s likely the last time Wilson will play this month. He hasn’t played in each of the last two preseason finales in 2017 and ‘18.
Carroll hinted at that when he said his reserves need to get sharper. They let a 23-3 lead become a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
“We have to get better with those guys next week,” Carroll said of his reserves, “because they are going to play the whole game (the preseason finale against Oakland Thursday at CenturyLink Field).”
Is Wilson and the starting offense ready for the regular season, which begins in two weekends?
“I think we feel great. We’ve been ready,” Wilson said.
“I think we are ready. We are prepared to go on this journey.”
Geno Smith replaced him early in the second quarter and played into the fourth quarter, building Seattle’s 23-3 lead. Smith, battling concussed Paxton Lynch to be Wilson’s backup this season, looked sharp eluding pressure and throwing on the run. The former New York Jets and Giants starter completed 11 of 18 throws for 117 yards. He ran for a touchdown of 8 yards in the third quarter.
Smith said his left knee from which surgeons removed a cyst two weeks ago is not fully healed, but that it’s good enough to re-join Lynch in the competition for the number-two QB job.
Penny had 12 carries for 13 total yards in the first two preseason games. Last weekend at Minnesota, he went backwards: six carries for minus-2 yards. But as coach Pete Carroll explained, rightly, Seattle’s reserve line depleted by a half-dozen injuries to blockers gave Penny next to no room. On five of his six carries against the Vikings, defenders were in his face in the backfield.
”I know how to evaluate that,” Carroll said this past week.
Everyone knows how to evaluate Penny’s night in suburban L.A., near where he grew up.
He was part of Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer again doing what they will when the games get real beginning Sept. 8: run first, and run often. By early in the second quarter, Chris Carson, Penny, Prosise, Wilson and even wide receiver Tyler Lockett (on a fly sweep) had run 18 times for 104 yards, 4.8 yards per rush.
Penny replaced Carson (three rushes, 23 yards) for the entirety of the second drive for the Seahawks’ starting offense. Penny’s first run on the series went for seven yards, which is five more than he had on six rushes last week behind Seattle’s reserve, makeshift offensive line.
Two plays after he ran for 9 yards, on a third down in the red zone, Penny made four Chargers miss after a catch of a dump-off pass by Wilson. All of his own, with no blocking, he set up fourth and 1 at the L.A. 3.
Penny followed center Justin Britt into the end zone, never stopping his leg churn from the 3 across the goal line for Seattle’s first points.
On that play, in that way, he looked a lot like the relentless Carson, Seattle’s 1,110-yard back from last season.
That figures. Penny said after the game he and Carson have been working for 30 minutes after every practice this month on balance and leverage.
“It’s paying off,” he said.
Carroll pumped his fist and yelled while going up and down the sideline to his starting offense after Penny’s TD.
That touchdown drive included Wilson in vintage, deep-regular-season form. On a second and 18 he did a quick, half rollout to the right. He zipped a dart onto the chest of Lockett, who settled and turned his route back to Wilson in a soft place of the Chargers’ zone coverage. Just like that: 20 yards and a Seahawks first down.
Prosise’s flash Saturday is why the Seahawks have kept him on the roster going into the final year of his rookie contract.
The former Notre Dame wide receiver trying to retain a place in the offense this season as a third-down back, ran for 26 yards on three consecutive smooth gallops in the middle of the second quarter. That got the Seahawks to the 5-yard line.
Wilson then threw a jump-ball fade pass in the end zone to 6-foot-5 Jazz Ferguson. Overmatched Los Angeles starting cornerback Michael Davis had no choice but to grab Ferguson before the ball arrived to prevent another preseason touchdown by the undrafted rookie. After that pass-interference foul, Prosise ran behind a stalemating block in the middle by reserve center Joey Hunt for a touchdown. That put the Seahawks ahead 13-3.
You could almost feel Prosise exhale all the way up into the press box. His teammates celebrated all over him in the end zone, and on the sideline.
Prosise was the third-down back during the 2-minute drill at the end of the half, run by Smith. Prosise made a juggling catch in traffic on a swing pass. He ran with that for 15 yards and a first down to get Seattle off its own goal line. The Seahawks eventually got a 58-yard field goal by Jason Myers to end that drive to increase their lead to 16-3 at halftime.
“I’m just excited,” Prosise said. “I’m excited to be back out there. It’s fun. I love playing this game. Having it taken away the last few years has been tough for me. Going out there and just everything, all the hard work, coming to fruition tonight is really just making me happy.
“I’m just excited for the season. ...I definitely had something to prove.”
WAGNER, WRIGHT, TOGETHER AGAIN: On defense, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright played together with Mychal Kendricks at linebacker for the first time this preseason.
Wagner had knee therapy three weeks ago. Wright, 30, has been resting after knee surgery this time last year limited him to playing in only five of 16 regular-season games.
In the second quarter Kendricks and Wagner stormed in free on Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor (Philip Rivers isn’t playing this preseason) as if they were giving away free money in the backfield for a sack.
“It was exciting to see, for me, to see Bobby, K.J. and Mychal on the field for the first time,” Carroll said.
“Just to have those guys out there running the show is something that is very important to us. I think it’s going to be the real strength of our club. That was kind of their debut, and they are going to be ready for the opener.”
PASS RUSH: Once again, the Seahawks only got pressure by blitzing, by bringing more to help their needy front four defensive linemen in the pass rush.
That rush is expected to get top sack man Ziggy Ansah practicing with it for the first time this week, Carroll said Friday.
The starting defense played the first three drives. They allowed the Chargers 85 yards on 21 plays (4 yards per snap) and to go 3 for 5 on third downs. The Seahawks got a three and out on their first defensive series, then allowed a field goal before forcing a turnover on downs at midfield when Taylor fumbled the center’s snap on fourth and 1 at midfield.
Rookie Cody Barton and fellow linebacker Austin Calitro replaced Wagner and Wright and entered with the reserve defense midway through the second quarter.
KENDRICKS’ STOP: With just under 2 minutes remaining in the first half, Kendricks stormed off the Chargers’ left end and dumped former Seahawks summer-star running back Troymaine Pope for a 2-yard loss on fourth and 1 at the Seattle 15.
That was the second turnover on downs for the Seahawks’ starting defense in the half.
Kendricks, Wagner and Wright give Seattle Super Bowl starters at each linebacker spot in base defense this season. It’s the best corps of linebackers Carroll has had in his 10 seasons leading the Seahawks.
“Mychal made a couple of beautiful plays,” Carroll said.
Kendricks has a sentencing hearing in federal court in Pennsylvania Sept. 25 for insider trading. That’s in week three of the regular season. The Seahawks seem to think he’ll be playing for him and not in prison this season.
FORD TOUGH: Poona Ford is a rising star on the defensive line.
Last year’s undrafted rookie standout once again devoured ball carriers in the backfield because offensive linemen couldn’t or wouldn’t block him.
Ford dropped Austin Ekeler for no gain at the line early. He ran far outside right toward the sideline, 20-plus yards laterally, to chase down Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor to stop his scramble run. On Kendricks’ fourth-down tackle and turnover, Ford stood up two Chargers’ interior blockers. That freed Kendricks to run free behind the traffic Ford caused at the line to ruin the play.
Ford’s play is becoming timely. Fellow defensive tackle Jarran Reed is suspended for the first six games of the regular season into October after an alleged domestic-violence incident.
Reed started another preseason game Saturday. He can practice until Sept. 2, the first practice of week one in the regular season.
SHAQUILL GRIFFIN STEPS UP: Forget the phantom defensive holding call on third down early. Starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin played a strong first half.
He knocked down a pass outside on third down in the red zone. He made tackles at the line of scrimmage. Once, he blew up a short-yardage sweep play by making a defensive end-like spin on a pulling tight end.
AMADI’S ADVENTURE: Carroll said he was excited to see rookie safety Ugo Amadi return punts Saturday because he has looked good doing that in practice.
In the third quarter, Amadi broke Carroll’s cardinal rule of punt retuners, the rule that is why Lockett will remain the primary one this season: Catch and secure the ball. Amadi misjudged the distance of a punt and tried to catch it while stepping back. He dropped it. Despite a scramble, the Seahawks maintained possession.
JENNINGS’ MISTAKE: Rookie fourth-round pick Gary Jennings has been next to invisible this preseason, after a hamstring injury in June. He needs to show coaches something soon.
Saturday in the second quarter, he showed them something he’d rather forget.
Wilson was ended a scramble of 16 yards to a first down when the rookie wide receiver turned his back toward the goal line and level a Chargers defender with an unnecessary block. It’s the definition of the blind-side block NFL officials have been instructed to flag for a 15-yard personal foul this year. They did, pushing the offense back to midfield.
Carroll stood next to Jennings after the block and just stared.
Jennings had one catch on three targets for 12 yards.
HANG TEN: Rookie seventh-round pick John Ursua from Hawaii did a cool, high-step stutter during a 28-yard catch and run on the first play after halftime.
Ursua had two catches for a team-high 52 yards.
TAYLOR AGAIN NICKEL: Seventh-year veteran Jamar Taylor was the first nickel defensive back in passing situations for the second consecutive game. He entered on the Chargers’ first possession. His sterling training camp has him on track to be Justin Coleman’s replacement there to begin the regular season.
One of his competitors for the nickel job, Kalan Reed, missed the game with neck injury.