Seahawks running back Chris Carson had carried the ball for the sixth and final time Friday night when he learned the coaches still had some grunt work left for rookies desperate to impress.
They told him to take the field with the special teams unit for the second-half kickoff to the Minnesota. Although Carson had not participated in kickoff coverage since high school, he figured out the drill: Run hard and stick the return man.
Carson hit the Vikings’ Rodney Adams with such force, the ball was fumbled and recovered by the Hawks at the visitors’ 18-yard line. The play registered as an “FF” on the stat sheet – forced fumble – and did more to solidify the seventh-round draft choice’s chances of surviving the roster cut than his 27 rushing yards in the first half.
“I just want to go out there and compete,” Carson said after practice on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter what you put me on.
“I don’t take plays off.”
Hawks running backs coach Chad Morton didn’t need to see Carson initiate a collision to know the Oklahoma State product was all in.
“We put him in there for special teams and he didn’t say a word about it,” said Morton. “He didn’t complain, didn’t give a look, no bad body language. He just went out there and wanted to do it. That tells you about his character.”
Carson’s ability to convert the occasional off-tackle burst into an eight or 10-yard gain remains his most valuable asset. At 5-foot-11 and 218 pounds, he runs with the purpose and power.
But as a third-day draft pick once regarded as a fringe candidate for a roster spot, an eagerness to contribute in any way possible will determine his immediate future with the Seahawks.
“You want these guys to do anything they can to make the team,” said Morton. “In our meeting room, we always talk about stepping on the field and doing everything to the best of your ability. Take it seriously and go all out, whether it’s special teams or getting water for somebody else. Just be ready for whatever you’re asked to do.”
Last year’s roster cut revealed the emphasis the Seahawks put on versatility – a polite term for wreaking havoc with the special-teams unit. Troymaine Pope, a rookie running back signed as an undrafted free agent, led the team with 162 rushing yards during the preseason. Pope averaged six yards a carry and scored two touchdowns.
He was waived on Sept. 3, a week before the opener. If Carson is waived, it won’t for his failure to assimilate.
“He’s very mature, very serious,” said Morton. “He wants to get better. He’s always asking questions. He doesn’t say a lot, not just because he’s quiet, but because he knows that’s what he’s supposed to do. You don’t need to be out here messing around.
“That’s the great thing about him. For him to be that young and act like that, it’s refreshing.”
Carson’s professionalism appears rooted in some setbacks. An Atlanta-area product, he had plans to accept a scholarship at Georgia when he suffered a serious knee injury in high school. Carson ended up at a junior college in Kansas, where he played well enough to merit a subsequent scholarship offer from Georgia.
But when that fell through, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, familiar with JC programs in the region, offered Carson a lifeline.
Carson didn’t disappoint, but there was a flaw in his game – specifically, a tendency to fumble – that contributed to falling to the seventh-round this past spring.
Since working with a trainer to improve his hand strength and ball-possession technique, Carson has emerged as the kind of diamond-in-the-rough prospect head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider find intriguing.
“This is my lifelong goal,” said Carson. “Since I was 6 years old, I wanted to play in the NFL. I’m blessed to be here.”
Carson’s focus on all things football has not precluded him from entertaining ambitions beyond the sport. He wants to visit Iceland someday, and at the risk of offending any Icelandic acquaintances – I met one, 35 years ago – a question persists:
“In junior college, I had to do a project,” Carson explained. “My place was Iceland, and I ended up liking it. At first I thought it was cold and snow everywhere, but it’s not like that at all. It’s actually really nice. I found out a lot of celebrities visit there.”
Here’s hoping that when Chris Carson finally visits Iceland, he’ll be a celebrity, too. In the meantime, he’s angling for one of those precious roster spots reserved for the guys who do whatever it takes.