RENTON — To Pete Carroll, Ken Walker is a reason to get excited.
Sure, the Seahawks’ rushing game has been poor, combining for 112 yards over the first two weeks of the season, including just 36 on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. But this week Carroll hopes for some big improvement.
The always-optimistic Seahawks coach enthusiastically spoke about Walker, a rookie running back who is finally fully recovered from hernia surgery and primed for a larger workload in the coming weeks.
Seahawks fans got their first look at Walker last week, as the speedy second-round draft pick made his NFL debut in their 27-7 loss in Santa Clara, California.
It wasn’t a big day statistically for Walker, who carried just four times for 10 yards, but Carroll said this week on Seattle Sports 710 AM that Walker will see more action in the weeks to come.
“Doggone it, we didn’t get to see him,” Carroll said. “We’ll see him, it’ll happen. We didn’t make enough space for him. He’s going to be an exciting football player for us.”
Walker is penciled in as starter Rashaad Penny’s backup. For some players, going from star running back in college to RB2 in the NFL might lead to some hard feelings, but not for Walker.
He’s been a backup before, and he did just fine.
Walker didn’t get the starting snaps in his first two college seasons at Wake Forest but managed to rush for 579 yards as the Demon Deacons’ secondary option, first behind Cade Carney and then behind Christian Beal-Smith.
When he finally got the chance to be the starter after transferring to Michigan State for his junior season, Walker exploded for 1,636 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, and the 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Give him a chance, and Walker will take advantage.
“There’s nothing that Ken can’t do,” Carroll said. “… There are really no restrictions on his play at all other than just getting back into game shape, because he hasn’t played in a while. The fact that he made it through the game, and he felt all right and got hit a couple times and all that, that just helps us progress. He’ll be calling for a regular workload as we are going forward.”
Walker is eager to help improve a disappointing start to the season for the team’s running backs, a position group expected to be among the Seahawks’ stronger units.
Through the first two weeks, the Seahawks rank last in the NFL in rushing yards.
“If we get our run game going, I believe we can make a big impact,” Walker said. “… I think that can make a big difference in the passing game as well. It could open it up, and I think we can do both. We’re a balanced offense.”
Walker has had to adjust on and off the field, from to the speed of the NFL to life in the Northwest.
Being a native of Arlington, Tennessee, near Memphis, Walker had never been on a boat before taking a Seattle’s water taxi this summer. He’s been too busy to explore other Seattle’s tourist attractions, but he has grown to appreciate the state’s natural beauty and potential for outdoor activities.
“I went jet skiing, too,” Walker said. “I love jet skiing.”
He also has quickly learned to appreciate the 12s.
Sunday will be his home debut, but Walker saw the spectacle from the sideline for the Sept. 12 opener against the Broncos. He is excited to finally show off his skills in front of a new fan base.
“I loved it at [Michigan] State,” Walker said. “The fans, they always showed me so much love. They showed our team so much love. … And when I got here, actually being on the field at the stadium, and seeing how loud the fans are and how loyal the fans are, it’s pretty cool to see. It’s exciting.”
While Seahawks fans haven’t gotten the chance to see the full scope of Walker’s talent yet, his teammates are impressed.
“That kid is explosive,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “I mean, super explosive, he runs hard, he’s quick, shifty, all the things you look for in a great back. I think he’s got the potential to be a really good back, and as he gets going along, and as Rashaad gets going along and [Travis] Homer and DeeJay [Dallas], it can be special. It really can be.”