Seahawks Rashaad Penny already misses retired Chris Carson

Rashaad Penny had better starts in training camp.

No, it’s not his physical condition. It’s the best he’s been with the Seahawks to start a preseason — and Penny is finally healthy for the start of a camp. After an offseason of running in the sand near his home in Temecula, Calif., he weighs 237 pounds. That’s the weight he was at the end of last season, when he had his best four ground games of his four-year NFL career.

It’s not his race either. Penny looks slick and decisive with the ball – although she rushes at defenders with orders not to hit or tackle any ball carriers so far.

It’s as if Penny never had seven injuries in his first four seasons, or comes just weeks after his contract ended last December after being unsigned and out of a job for 2022.

It’s not the best start to training camp for Penny because her best friend isn’t around. And he’s not coming back.

Penny is shocked and distraught Seahawks running back Chris Carson, her self-proclaimed ‘best friend’, has been forced to retire at 27 after neck surgery.

“Yeah,” Penny said, “I was heartbroken.”

He shook his head.

“Because I don’t think it really affected us,” Penny said. “We all huddled together as running backs and it looked like that was the end of it. But his record is still there, so I think that still means a lot.

“He deserves all the flowers after everything he’s done. He set the standard for who a running back is for the Seahawks. So we all follow what he’s done….”

Carson had fused discs in his neck last season, after playing just four games. He and Penny spoke regularly as Carson traveled the country this spring seeking medical opinions about the still limited range of motion in his repaired neck.

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Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson (32) celebrates a touchdown with Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle George Fant (74) and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jaron Brown (18) during the second quarter. The Seattle Seahawks faced the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Wash. on Sunday, September 8, 2019. Joshua Bessex [email protected]

Penny’s Challenge

This dangerous lack of movement is the reason Carson failed a Seahawks physical. That’s why Penny is Seattle’s new main running back.

For now, it is. Penny has yet to play a full season in the NFL. He played just 37 of a possible 65 regular season games in his career, at a brutal position with the league’s shortest career span (less than three seasons).

“It’s bigger than football for me,” Penny said. “When people talk about injuries, I don’t think anyone understands that as ball carriers our lifespan is so short. But that’s what we all have to deal with…

“I don’t know how much he’s going through because it’s over. But it’s different when you can come back from injury and rehab and you know you’re going to play that next week, or whatever. So I don’t really know if it hit him again.

He started hitting the Seahawks early this spring that Carson wasn’t coming back. Deciding to sign running back Ken Walker, Michigan State’s prolific rusher, in the second round in late April amid the team’s many needs made Carson’s predicament even more difficult.

Walker looked quick and decisive early in training camp. The pads that light up for the first time this week will be a truer indicator of how ready Walker is to share the rush load with Penny. The surest way for a rookie running back to gain immediate and substantial playing time with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is to prove he can effectively ram into charging defenders and pass the block to protect the quarterback- back.

That’s how Penny broke a bone in his hand during his rookie training camp, months after Seattle drafted him in the first round in 2018. It set him back from starting his career.

He also had a sprained knee, then a strained hamstring. Torn knee ligaments and reconstructive surgery sidelined him from December 2019 to December 2020. Strain in that same knee kept him from losing Seattle to the Rams in the January 2021 playoffs.

A strained calf after two carries for 8 yards in last season’s opener at Indianapolis sent Penny to injured reserve. It cost him six weeks. He returned to play in two games, but did not enter the field on November 14 when the Seahawks lost 17-0 at Green Bay. Penny rushed for 18 yards on her first play starting the game against Arizona on Nov. 21. He strained his hamstrings on that run and limped off the field to the sideline. He missed Seattle’s loss to Washington the following week.

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Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (20) runs along the sideline after Chicago Bears linebacker Bruce Irvin (55) was stiff during the fourth quarter of an NFL game Sunday afternoon at Lumen Field in Seattle. Peter Caster [email protected]

Peterson changed Penny

Then Adrian Peterson arrived at the end of last season.

The future Hall of Fame running back tore knee ligaments early in his career, as did Penny. Peterson returned to rush for 2,000 yards and the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player award with Minnesota.

Peterson only played one game for the Seahawks, but he changed Penny’s career. He told Penny to protect her rebuilt knee by attacking defenders before they could attack the knee. Penny ran with newfound aggression and determination.

The previously dropped running back’s transformation included rushing for 135 yards or more in three of four games upon his return from the IR. He won the award for the first player of the week of his career. That was after he battled for a career-high 170 yards with two touchdowns in Seattle’s rout of Detroit. In just the first half against the Lions, Penny eclipsed her career-high 137 yards set four games earlier at Houston.

He rushed for 144 yards before halftime against the Lions. It was the most yards ever by a Seahawks running back in the first half. It was the fastest yards of any half by a Seahawks since Shaun Alexander’s 192 yards in the second half of Seattle’s win over the Raiders in a rainstorm at Husky Stadium in 2001.

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Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny (20) breaks up a tackle attempt by Detroit Lions free safety Tracy Walker (21) en route to a rushing touchdown in the second quarter of an NFL game on Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Lumen Terrain in Seattle. Peter Caster [email protected]

This earned him a one-year contract to return to the Seahawks with $5 million guaranteed.

That’s a far cry from six injuries in four years, Penny’s legacy with the Seahawks until Peterson turned it into those pivotal four games to end last season.

He admitted after his first breakout in Houston at the end of last season that he internalized all the negativity people posted on social media about him.

Now 26, he says he’s barely on his Instagram, Twitter and other accounts.

“Yeah, I feel like as I get older, I don’t really care anymore,” he said. “People’s words really don’t hurt as much as they used to.

“I feel like a lot of people really didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s just now that I’m ignoring them.

What he can’t ignore: Carson is no longer with him in the locker room, on the team bus, on the team plane and in the Seahawks backfield.

“Yeah, we’re really close. He’s my guy,” Penny said. “Anything I needed when it came to football, or just life in general, I always went to him. He gave me the most positive feedback and I know personally that he will I know everyone will and everyone feels the same about who they are as a person.

“I think that’s mostly what I’m going to miss.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL editor for The News Tribune. In January 2019, he was named Washington State Sports Journalist of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders drummer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native started covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season in 2005. In a past life, he graduated from West Point and served as a Tactical Intelligence Officer in the US Army, he can so ask you to drop it and give it 10.

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