With Chris Carson gone, can Rashaad Penny ‘start’ as Seahawks’ RB1? – NFL Nation

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RENTON, Wash. — For the first time in his NFL career, running back Rashaad Penny began training camp as the Seattle Seahawks’ projected starter.

That didn’t happen as a rookie in 2018, when Chris Carson returned from his broken leg and reclaimed the job, even though the Seahawks had just drafted Penny No. 27 overall. That didn’t happen in any of the next three seasons, as Carson entrenched himself as Seattle’s leading back while Penny was sidelined by one injury after another, including a torn ACL in December 2019 that kept him in almost all of 2020.

So, only now that Carson is out of the picture after plans to retire with a neck injury, Penny is heading into the season opener as the Seahawks’ clear-cut RB1 coming off a torrid five-game stretch late last season, where he led the NFL with 671 rushing yards.

“I don’t think so,” Penny said when asked about being the clear-cut RB1 last week after the first practice of camp. “I’ve got a lot of things to prove to myself. Again, I’ve still got to be healthy … I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder this year, so I really can’t see anything as far as that, but I’m excited for the opportunity and we’ll just have to see where it goes from here.”

Penny doesn’t get ahead of himself because he knows his spot on the depth chart doesn’t mean much unless he can stay on the field. So far so good. His only injury hiccup this offseason was a brief absence in the spring to rest what coach Pete Carroll described as a minor hamstring problem. He has participated in all five practices in camp and closed the second with a long touchdown run, sprinting past Seattle’s defense.

“I think this is the best condition he’s ever been in,” Carroll said, “and I know he’s going to fly.”

Interestingly, Carroll said the same thing last summer after Penny reported camping on the leaner side of his 225-pound weight range. He came back this year at 237, which he has played at in the past. Penny said some of that weight is muscle he’s added to his lower body, but hinted he wants to drop a few pounds this summer.

“Rashaad is in great shape,” Carroll said. “Two-thirty-seven he weighed. Just cut and sharp and fast and excited because he had such a great offseason. He looked great. He couldn’t wait to get out here and just run. He really wanted to show us that he could walk and he looked like he did when we finished at the end, so it was really fun to see.”

It was a reference to Penny’s fiery ending last season. With Carson sidelined by the neck injury — and with some motivation from Adrian Peterson — Penny ran for 208 more yards than the next-leading rusher over the last five games. His six rushing touchdowns in that span tied for the league lead and were one more than he had accumulated to that point in three-plus seasons.

This stretch of brilliance earned Penny something that previously would have been difficult to imagine – a second contract with Seattle. He tested free agency before returning on a one-year deal worth $5.75 million, all but $680,000 of which is guaranteed.

The Seahawks had added motivation to bring Penny back with Carson’s football future in doubt. The team released him a day before camp with a failed physical, a procedural move that makes him eligible to earn some of the non-guaranteed money he was due in 2022.

Penny, a close friend of Carson’s, called his retirement “heartbreaking”. Carroll did the same.

“I loved him on our team,” Carroll said. “It breaks my heart not to have him back, especially with the way we’re going about it.”

As in, with how much they’ve always liked to run the ball — Seattle has the NFL’s fourth-highest designed rush percentage since 2012 — and with how much focus there will be in their post-Russell Wilson offense. What choice do they have but to lean on their revamped defense and run the game and hope Drew Lock and/or Geno Smith can grind out wins?

That plan and their doubts about Carson gave the Seahawks more reason to bolster their backfield by drafting Kenneth Walker III with their two second-round picks. Walker has flashed his 4.38 speed and much better receiving skills than you might have expected from a player who caught just 13 passes during his 2021 Heisman finalist season at Michigan State.

“He’s fast,” Penny said of the 5-foot-9, 211-pound Walker. “This guy, he can play. He reminds me a little bit of a smaller Chris. We’ll see when we get some pads on … He’s not afraid of anything. I like the way he just wants to learn and wants to be great.”

Penny has missed 30 of a possible 69 games (including playoffs) in his career due to injury. Only twice has he carried more than 20 times in a game. So Walker expects to get plenty of work, whether by design or necessity. Seattle also has Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas as change-of-pace options. Their contributions on special teams make them safe bets to make the opening day roster.

“We’re really excited that Ken is here now as well,” Carroll said. “…It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to see those guys play. It takes more than one.”

With pads on the way, the second week of camp will offer a look at whether Penny again runs with the same aggressive style that was evident during his closing surge last year.

“I feel like what I did last season, it wasn’t a surprise to me because I always knew what I could do,” he said. “I think the hard part was just getting to play on Sunday … and now that I’m feeling healthy and I’m feeling my best, I can’t wait to go this year. “

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