RENTON — One of the most intriguing position battles for the Seahawks is the third-down/two-minute running back.
The oft-injured but still-intriguing C.J. Prosise? Rookie Travis Homer? Dependable vet J.D. McKissic, who has the added advantage of also being a return specialist?
One of those players figures to win that role, and Seattle could keep two — maybe even all three — on the roster, depending on how things shake out.
One thing is clear: Seattle won’t have to take its starting tailbacks — Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny — off the field in passing-down situations if it doesn’t want to.
Carson and Penny have shown good receiving ability in their short Seattle careers, and the Seahawks have seemed more inclined than ever this camp to use the two as receivers — Penny spent one practice working as the No. 1 back in two-minute drill situations.
The two backs each had two receptions in Saturday’s mock game – Carson for 26 yards and Penny for 25 yards.
Carson said Tuesday that the way the team is using its running backs in the passing game is the biggest difference he sees in year two under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
“Doing a lot with the running backs,’’ Carson said. “Splitting them out wide, putting them in different spots on the field. He’s using us more in pass catching than what he did in the previous year. It’s fun for us. … All the running backs have got great hands so it’s good to see us finally be able to use it.’’
For those who might ask why Schottenheimer wouldn’t have done that more last year, it’s important to remember the context of the running back situation then.
Carson was coming off a serious injury as a rookie and had played just four games in 2017 while Penny was a rookie who after a good start in camp then suffered a dislocated finger and missed the final three games of the preseason.
Mike Davis, meanwhile, was entrenched as the third-down/two-minute back and also had a contract paying him the most of any tailback on the roster, which guaranteed him a significant role as long as he made the team.
But now, with Davis off to Chicago and Carson and Penny having essentially full seasons under their belts, healthy as can be as the preseason begins and Schottenheimer having learned that much more about them, the playbook is being opened more fully.
The Seahawks, though, also aren’t going to want to wear out Carson and Penny — the point, after all, is to get to the post-season with the best and healthiest roster possible.
So there’s going to be a role for the likes of Prosise, Homer and McKissic, as well as maybe Bo Scarbrough, who projects more as a backup early-down back than in passing down role.
As for who that will be, though, it was hard to tell on Tuesday — both Prosise and Homer sat out (why was unknown since coaches did not talk to the media Tuesday) while McKissic also left practice late with an apparent injury.
Near-scrap a sign of Ifedi’s maturation?
The Seahawks used to have a scrap of some sort in camp almost every other day in the heyday of the Legion of Boom.
This year, there has been only one of note, a brief tussle last week between Ethan Pocic and Jarran Reed that saw both players get ejected from practice.
There was the initial eruptions of another on Tuesday when Cassius Marsh and Germain Ifedi briefly locked up following a pass-rush drill, with some slight jawing and pushing and shoving — the two had had a contentious battle just a few snaps earlier that left Marsh complaining, apparently thinking he had been held.
But the “altercation” ended almost as soon as it began, in part because Ifedi quickly put his hands up to make clear he wasn’t going to be duking it out.
It showed that maybe he’d gotten the lesson that Carroll preached again last week, that throwing a punch in a game and getting thrown out will only hurt the team.
It also seemed in stark contrast to Ifedi’s rookie year in 2016 when he was at the center of several scraps, one of the most notable featuring fellow Texas A&M alum Michael Bennett. Or 2017, when he engaged in another memorable tussle with Frank Clark that climaxed in a Clark punch to Ifedi’s face that caused Ifedi to then miss the next three days of practice (Clark later accepted the blame for that one).
During his rookie year, in particular, Ifedi’s regular scraps were viewed by some as him bringing some needed toughness to the offensive line.
But in retrospect they also seemed to symbolize Ifedi having some maturing to do about the ways of the NFL and knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, as evidenced by an NFL-high 20 penalties in 2017.
Ifedi insisted a year ago he’d learned some harsh lessons, and a cut in his penalty count to 10 — as well as more consistent overall play — backed up his words.
Tuesday’s step back from Marsh right when things could maybe have escalated seemed to more accurately be another step in the right direction for Ifedi, who enters the final season of his rookie contract with a starting spot secure at right tackle, but with his future beyond this season uncertain.
Mingo learning tricks of the trade
As Tuesday’s practice ended, Barkevious Mingo was still running laps, punishment for having gotten an offsides penalty a few plays prior.
Mingo at least didn’t get cheated on the penalty, a good two-to-three yards in the backfield at the snap.
“Take a shot, you know?’’ Mingo said later with a laugh. “I kind of took my shot and I was wrong that time. But hey, if you are not getting off you are never going to get there.’’
Indeed, trying to time the snap count is a key to the success of any defensive end, the position at which Mingo is playing almost solely now is after having been a linebacker last season, having been moved as the Seahawks try to find as many pass rushers as they can.
Earlier in the practice, Mingo timed a count perfectly and beat veteran left tackle Duane Brown badly to get into the backfield for a sack.
“Obviously you don’t want to jump offsides,’’ Mingo said. ”But (you want to get) as close as possible where you may get the call, you may not get the call. But that’s when you get those tackles kicking back, and when they are kicking back fast they are in your control.’’
Offsides penalties can be frustrating.
But as was the case during Bennett’s career, when he would get a few every season, coaches are often a little more understanding, knowing that there is a chess match aspect to it. As Carroll often explained with Bennett for offsides penalty there may have been five other times a perfectly-timed jump at the snap led to a big play, the kind that can turn a game around.
But as Mingo’s laps of punishment showed, the coaches’ understanding only goes so far.
With Geno Smith out, Paxton Lynch gets his chance
Geno Smith, who has been regarded as the leader for the backup QB spot, sat out practice Tuesday. Why was unclear since Carroll didn’t talk to the media, but Smith had some medical tape on his knee leading to the idea that maybe that was the issue.
With Smith out, Paxton Lynch got all the QB snaps that didn’t go to Russell Wilson.
And if Smith is out Thursday, then Lynch could get three quarters or so of work against his former team, Denver, as he tries to state a case to stay with his new team in Seattle —coaches have said the backup QB battle will be decided almost solely by what happens in games, though Smith’s experience has helped reinforce the idea that he is the leader going in.
Lynch, though, will hope for a bit more success than he had for most of Tuesday’s practice, which was spotty at best.
In one four-play sequence there was a drop by Keenan Reynolds (of a pass that Lynch threw well enough, if maybe just a little low), then a pass that was batted down at the line by Mingo, another a pass that was low and incomplete on the sidelines, then a pass to Gary Jennings that was well-defended by Jamar Taylor and was tipped and then picked off by Marwin Evans.