Rookie Chris Carson and second-year players Alex Collins will begin what figures to be a spirited competition for a roster spot at tailback in earnest when the Seahawks open the preseason Sunday against the Chargers.
Thomas Rawls greeted the question with an effervescence that has become a trademark of his press conferences.
“Man, the competition is crazy,’’ Rawls said of the Seahawks’ running back position
Rawls, though, wasn’t talking just about the most obvious battle — the one for the starting spot that Rawls currently appears to have a firm grip on ahead of Eddie Lacy — but rather the competition for the final spot or two on the roster.
Seattle appears to have three sure things at tailback — Rawls, Lacy and C.J. Prosise, who will have a significant role as the team’s third-down and two-minute back if not as an every down back.
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All three are expected to play Sunday when the Seahawks open the preseason in Carson, Calif., against the Chargers.
But none figure to play all that long with the Seahawks then turning over the carries to a handful of running backs who may be fighting for a final spot on the roster at tailback.
Two are particularly intriguing — rookie seventh-round pick Chris Carson and second-year player Alex Collins.
Carson, from Oklahoma State, has been an early standout in training camp earning the headiest of praise last week from receiver Doug Baldwin.
“He just has all the tools,’’ Baldwin said of the 5-11, 218-pounder. “I think he is probably, to me, is probably the most polished of any rookie at that position that I have ever seen.’’
Asked what he thought when he heard Baldwin’s comment, Carson said “it just makes me want to work harder.’’
Not that he showed up with nothing to learn. He fell to the seventh round in part due to injuries last season that limited him to nine games and having played only two years at the Division-I level after beginning his career in junior college.
On draft day Carroll referred to him as something of a personal favorite saying he was intrigued by his physical style after watching Carson on tape.
If Carson is bothered that he lasted as long in the draft as he did, though, he isn’t letting on.
“I mean God put me in this situation where whatever was supposed to happen was supposed to happen,’’ he said. “I’m not really tripping about where I went. I’m just glad and blessed to have this opportunity.’’
And even though Baldwin said Carson is polished, that doesn’t mean he didn’t need to refine some basic aspects of his game early in camp.
“He had a hard time getting his pads down when he first got here,’’ Rawls said. “But it didn’t take too long for him to learn to get his pads down and now that big guy is going. That’s a big, fast, strong guy, too.’’
This time a year ago, it was Collins, a fifth-round pick out of Arkansas in 2016, earning similar raves only to then endure some typical rookie lumps. Having gained weight with the idea that he needed to get bigger to handle the physicality of the NFL, Collins instead found that it mostly just slowed him down some.
He spent much of the regular season shedding the excess pounds and by the end of the season he’d regained some of the form that allowed him to become one of only three running backs in SEC history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in their first three seasons (Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden are the others). Collins finished with 125 yards on 31 carries — -106 on 21 in the last three games.
Now Collins says he is in even better shape, weighing in now at 204 compared to 217 a year ago.
“I just feel a lot more explosive,’’ Collins said. “I feel faster in my routes and I definitely feel like I can outrun a lot more people.’’
He also says he feels more comfortable with the playbook and understanding of the rigors of the NFL, admitting it was an adjustment going from big man on campus to fighting for playing time.
“It’s hard for anyone when you just come from having so much success to barely playing at all,’’ Collins said.
The Seahawks also have former 49er 2015 fourth-round pick Mike Davis on the roster and he is healthy again after missing a few practices earlier in camp.
Seattle is also sure to keep a fullback (either Marcel Reece or Tre Madden), which could mean Carson, Collins and Davis are fighting for one spot — five has been a typical number of overall running backs for the Seahawks to keep — or to do so well that they force Seattle to keep six.
Carroll says everything is an option and that play in preseason games will go a long way toward making the decision.
“This is huge for them,’’ Carroll said of the team’s young running backs. “We’ve got to hopefully get enough chances where we see the guys and know where they fit. It’s a real important spot for us to get (the right roster) numbers, but it’ll take us a while. … we won’t even try to determine (anything) for three, four weeks now.”
Which also means three, four weeks of media and fans wondering how it will all shake out. Collins, though, says he’ll leave that debate to others.
“I don’t want to be out there worried about is this my last chance and am I going to get cut and make mental errors and mental mistakes and then that would be the likelihood of it,’’ he said. “I just to be out there with a clear mind and just do what I do best and at the end of the day they pick the best out of us.’’