RENTON — With the Seahawks reduced to one healthy running back against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, Pete Carroll was alarmed to see Travis Homer smash viciously into a defender on his very first carry.
“Homer, no!” Carroll called out — and when the rookie running back got to the sideline after the series, the coach had a gentle talk with him.
“I told him, ‘Look, you have to pick your spots, because we don’t have any depth,’ ” Carroll said.
The Seahawks have a little more depth as they head into their playoff opener Sunday in Philadelphia, having augmented the position by signing Marshawn Lynch, to considerable fanfare. But it was the performance of that reckless rookie last week against the 49ers, coupled with an expected upturn by the rusty Lynch, that has Carroll far more optimistic about the Seahawks’ running game.
That thrust Homer, a sixth-round draft pick out of Miami who had ridden the bench all year except for special teams, as the entirely unexpected starter heading into the crux of the season. And Homer rose to the moment, gaining 62 yards on 10 carries against San Francisco in addition to catching five passes for 30 yards.
Now Carroll speaks optimistically of a “one-two punch” with Homer and Lynch that the Seahawks hope replicates that of Carson and Penny at their best. What Carroll also learned is that any requests for rushing reticence from Homer will fall on deaf ears. He is in the same mold as Lynch and Carson, seeking out contact rather than shying from it — despite being much lighter at 200 pounds.
“He didn’t listen to a word I said,” Carroll said with far more approval than reproach. “He looked at me like, ‘There ain’t no way.’ He was going to go downhill, and that’s the way I play. I love it about him. Discretion isn’t really going to be one of his strengths.”
That’s acceptable when you have the burst, wiggle and brute strength that Homer does. It has always been his style, he said with a shrug.
“It’s a physical position, so you’ve got to be physical,” Homer said.
No one embodies that style of running more than Lynch, of course. And it was another sideline conversation, captured on camera last week at CenturyLink Field, that thrilled Homer. You can hear Lynch, in the midst of the 49ers game, telling the rookie how much he inspires him.
“I’m feeding off you,” Beast Mode adds.
Says Homer now: “It was definitely a cool moment for me to have one of the greatest come up to me and say what he said. I took that to heart.”
Lynch is clearly taking his leadership role to heart. Before the game he had insisted that Homer and fellow running back Robert Turbin share what everyone knew would be a thunderous ovation for Lynch’s return. They ran out of the tunnel together.
“I didn’t really know what he was doing at first, because he didn’t really explain it,” Homer said. “When I saw what was going on, I said, ‘OK, this is actually pretty cool.’ ”
Speaking of “pretty cool,” in the aforementioned clip, Lynch not only pumps up Homer — more than a decade his junior — he gives him some running advice. And not for the first time.
“He was giving me tips all throughout the week, just telling me what he was seeing, what I can do, this and that,” Homer said.
If anyone had any doubts about Lynch’s ability to fit in during his return to Seattle, his rapport with Homer should assuage them.
“It’s kind of a classic mentoring moment when the guy that you look up to … and Homer does look up to him for years and years when he was growing up,” Carroll said. “He made that comment that Marshawn was a big deal to him.
“To have that kind of willingness on the part of 24 (Lynch) to share himself and share his scars and all that and pump him up and all, praise him, too. It’s really powerful. It’s a real tribute to Marshawn. I know he won’t talk to you guys, but he’ll talk to our guys.”
Lynch showed bursts of his old form against San Francisco, finishing with 34 yards on 12 carries (though agonizingly denied of a potential game-winning touchdown because of a delay-of-game penalty). The Seahawks expect him to be better Sunday now that he has re-established his feel for game action.
Homer, meanwhile, had already caught the eyes of teammates with his stout special-teams play. On Sunday he earned raves for the way he responded to being thrust into the starting job in Week 17. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker likened him to another sixth-round draft pick who wound up in the Hall of Fame.
“Homer is a special back,’’ Fluker said. “I call him T.D. — Terrell Davis. That’s how Terrell Davis started — special teams. Then he became a starting running back.
“That’s him (Homer). That’s his story right there. He’s a guy always coming into work. He got his shot to play, and he showed up. That’s what it’s about.”
In assessing Homer, Carroll offered up what is the highest praise from the coach: “You can feel him.”
It is opponents who feel Homer most directly. And despite any admonishments from Carroll, that will continue to be the case. This is one endeavor where discretion is not always the better part of valor.