Seahawks running back Chris Carson has made a habit out of hurdling defenders. But does his technique stand up to scrutiny? We talked with a former NCAA and United States champion hurdler to find out.
Chris Carson has been hurdling human beings for a decade.
But he was not the first. On Sept. 6, 2008, the 13-year-old Atlanta native watched as Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno busted around the right edge, cut back into the open field and leaped entirely over a flailing, physically inferior Central Michigan defensive back.
The crowd inside Sanford Stadium buzzed in disbelief. The announcing team immediately compared Moreno to Herschel Walker.
Carson, meanwhile, resolved to replicate the feat.
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“It was right after watching Knowshon Moreno hurdle somebody in a Georgia game,” Carson recalled at his locker on Wednesday. “I did it in a little league practice. Ever since then, I started jumping.”
The 5-foot-11, 222-pound soaring Seahawk hasn’t stopped. In the 2018 season opener at Denver, Carson took a handoff, cut right, hesitated, then cleanly hurdled Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby. Then, in last weekend’s narrow win at Carolina, he burst up the middle, sized up 6-1 safety Eric Reid, leaped off his left leg and connected squarely with Reid’s shoulder. Carson flipped in mid-air, completed a full revolution, landed on his feet facing the opposite direction, turned and kept on running.
“I never seen no (stuff) like that in my life,” a mic’d-up Naz Jones said on the Seahawks’ sideline.
“That was out of this world. All of us said we’ve never seen that happen before,” head coach Pete Carroll said after the game.
“I would give him a 9 out of 10,” quarterback Russell Wilson added with a grin in the postgame press conference.
But with all due respect to Wilson, Carroll and Jones, none are completely qualified to evaluate Carson’s head-turning hurdles. To do that, The Times consulted a three-time NCAA champion at Washington State and the 2011 United States champion in the 400-meter hurdles. This man also happens to be a former WSU wide receiver.
So how would Jeshua Anderson — now an assistant coach at the University of Washington — grade Carson’s trademark hurdling technique?
“He definitely has good form,” Anderson said in a phone interview this week, referring specifically to Carson’s leap against the Broncos. “I think just because of the sport that he plays, he had to be high (in the air). Usually we attack the hurdle. If you attack the defender you’d probably kick him in the face. But because he’s trying to elude and actually not get hit, it causes his upper-body to be up a little bit too much.”
Of course, Carson’s error last weekend ended up being just the opposite.
“I mean, that one … that’s just tough,” Anderson said with a chuckle. “Our highest hurdle is 42 inches, so it is pretty high. But the defender is lunging, so it changes how high he should jump. I think he would have cleared him for sure if (Reid) wouldn’t have lunged. But he just caught his leg.
“The Broncos one is probably a better (play), technique-wise. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do with his legs, which allows him to be able to get back to the ground and get running again. On the track, our thing is we need to get to the ground as fast as possible, so we’re snapping the leg down and over. Here you can’t really do that.”
Instead, Carson vaulted and twisted like an Olympic gymnast, hanging Matrix-like in mid-air before somewhat sloppily sticking the landing.
And, speaking of Olympic gymnasts, Kerri Strug — who notably nailed a vault on an injured ankle to secure gold for the United States in the 1996 Olympic Games — also had something to say about the play.
“Slight deduction for use of the left hand but very high and deserving marks for difficulty and execution!” Strug tweeted on Sunday. “And great respect for doing what it takes to help the team get the win!”
Indeed, Carson did what it took. He landed and kept right on running.
And that act, Anderson said, separated the Seahawk from the vast majority of competitive hurdlers.
“There’s some terrible falls,” said Anderson, who also caught 49 passes for 743 yards and four touchdowns in two-plus seasons on the Washington State football team. “There’s some that are like that where the person actually hits under the hurdle, and those (falls) are bad. There are plenty of those on YouTube.
“You might get a few flips … but not like that at all, where you’re hanging in the air. Most of the time you’re crashing down and you don’t want to finish the race after that. Most of the time people’s spirits are hurt.”
Remarkably, Carson — whose 2017 season ended because of a broken leg — was uninjured on the play.
But this raises the question: Considering Carson’s considerable injury history, would Carroll prefer he forego the flight?
“No, I don’t mind. Go for it,” Carroll said on Monday. “I like the mentality that it takes to do that. It’s why he is who he is. He’s been in the air before — (albeit) not quite like the one he had (against the Panthers). He realizes that he still has to control the ball all the way throughout.
“He never has planned, I’m sure, to flip. It looked like he had been working on it, to tell you the truth. But, no, I don’t mind. I don’t want to hold him back. I don’t want to inhibit him. Let him go.”
To Carroll’s point, Carson has not been working on hurdling in a technical sense. The second-year running back confirmed on Wednesday that he has never participated in track and field or cleared a set of stationary hurdles. He attributed his hurdles and hops to “God-given athleticism.”
Yes, to the Seahawks’ delight, Carson is not about to quit his day job. He’s not a competitive hurdler (though, if he wanted to be, Anderson said “there’s definitely something there that we could work with”). He’s not an Olympic gymnast. While his talent translates to multiple sports, he remains focused on football.
That focus has yielded 635 rushing yards, 4.4 yards per carry and four touchdowns in nine games this season.
So, in the midst of a playoff push, are Carson’s hurdling days officially done?
“I don’t know. I’m saying I’m not going to do it again,” Carson declared with a wry smile, before eventually adding, “but who knows?”