After a breakout game against the Rams, Penny showed with one run against the Packers that he figures to be an increasingly big part of Seattle's tailback rotation.
“A complement” and “confident.”
Those were the words used to describe Seahawks running back rookie Rashaad Penny on Tuesday — the first used by Seattle coach Pete Carroll, and the second by Penny himself.
That Penny, the team’s first-round draft choice out of San Diego State last April, seems to be gaining confidence by the week, though, means he might become far more than a complementary player as the season — and his career — progresses.
Carroll seemed to spend the first half of the season taking every chance he could to talk up Penny and his potential contributions while he was struggling.
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But now that Penny has begun to consistently show his worth and will continue getting playing time, Carroll isn’t volunteering any specifics on how Seattle will use Penny and starter Chris Carson going forward.
“I like that Rashaad was able to complement (Carson in the victory Thursday over Green Bay) and help us out, too,’’ Carroll said. “Too bad he got nicked a little bit there (a sprained left ankle in the first quarter) and had to come out and get his ankle taped and all that. Missed a couple of opportunities there to stay in the rhythm of it. But it’s a good competitive situation for sure.’’
For now, how Seattle worked it out on Thursday in a 27-24 victory over the Packers figures to be the best guess as to how it will be going forward — Carson starts, Penny then comes in and gets a series or two, Mike Davis continues to primarily fill the third-down/two-minute back role, and then coaches adjust depending on who has the hot hand and how the game is progressing.
“I like the mix of all three guys,’’ Carroll said Tuesday. “It looked fine. It will change week-to-week some and we will see how that goes. Just depends on how things are going.’’
Penny, though, showed pretty definitively against the Packers that he is in the rotation to stay.
After playing sporadically through the first half of the season — 42 carries overall, but only 25 in a six-game span from the third week of the season to the eighth — Penny has 20 carries for 154 yards in the past two. That’s more than double the 146 he had in the first half of the season.
He had 108 yards on 12 carries against the Rams on Nov. 11 in his first real breakout game.
Penny then showed quickly against Green Bay there was more where that came from, taking his first handoff and, after breaking right and evading a tackle from Green Bay’s Clay Matthews about 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage, criss-crossing the field left and then heading back down the middle for a gain of 30.
According to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats, Penny ran 82.3 yards on the play.
“It didn’t feel like that much, to be honest,’’ Penny said Tuesday. “Once I passed the first-down marker (the play came on a first-and-15 following a penalty) I was gassed out. After that, I don’t know (what happened).’’
That includes being able to cite exactly when he got hurt.
Penny was tripped up by Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander at the Green Bay 38 but said he thinks he sprained the ankle on a cutback a few steps prior to the tackle.
He also said it might have just hurt because he wasn’t as warmed up for the play as he usually is. It was the first home night game this season for Seattle and Penny — who grew up in Southern California — said, “I’m not used to playing in cold weather like that.’’
And then after the pregame warmups, Penny didn’t play until the third series. “I’ve just got to stay warm on the sidelines,’’ he said.
Once taped, Penny said his ankle felt fine, and said it won’t be an issue in the preparation for the game this Sunday at Carolina.
The injury, the tape job, and having to sit out a bit, limited Penny to 16 yards on seven carries the rest of the way against the Packers. But the 30-yard run seemed evidence enough that the Rams game wasn’t a one-game thing.
Asked what has changed the past two games, Penny talked of feeling more comfortable in the offense and better prepared.
“And just being confident,’’ he said.
The performance against the Rams, he said, led to a definite mental breakthrough
“Once you realize you can compete,’’ he said. “That’s the best.’’
The first few months of the season brought some challenges for Penny that were both expected and unexpected.
At San Diego State, he ran in a system in which the quarterback was under center and Penny often was used out of the I-formation, the proverbial structure of downhill running, where he said he usually ran forward and behind “an offensive line making holes bigger than you expected.”
With Seattle he is most often working out of the shotgun and having to read and react, a style that took a little time to master.
“Just practicing every day and getting the reps, it started to come natural to me,’’ he said.
Then there was the broken finger suffered in training camp following the first exhibition game that cost him valuable learning time in training camp.
Now 10 games in, he said, “I’m just not being a rookie anymore.’’
That showed in the run against the Packers, which he said earned some praise from Russell Wilson for the way he evaded Matthews, a six-time Pro Bowl selection. (Matthews infamously hit Wilson hard during the 2015 NFC title game, leaving Wilson briefly wobbly).
“Russ told me at the end of the game, he was like ‘it’s only worked one time (against Matthews) — it ain’t going to happen all the time.’’’
Penny mostly was just happy to give the home fans something to cheer about — he’d had just 16 yards on seven carries at CenturyLink Field this season until that run.
“I’ve seen a lot of big plays happen in Seattle, and some weird ones that have become big,’’ he said. “I just wanted to be a part of it and be a playmaker.’’