RENTON — What was officially the last play of Seahawks training camp Tuesday also might have foreshadowed the future.
With the ball at the 7-yard line and sensing a blitz, quarterback Russell Wilson “used a signal’’ to let running back Rashaad Penny, split out wide, know the ball would be coming his way, in the words of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Wilson got the pass off, Penny made the catch as he crossed into the end zone, and coach Pete Carroll decided that was a good note on which to officially break camp.
Later, Schottenheimer said it’s the kind of play — using the running backs as receivers — that the Seahawks plan to do more of in 2019.
Schottenheimer even stated a rather eye-popping goal for Chris Carson when asked about Carson having 23 targets last season.
“We need to get that number up,’’ Schottenheimer said. “Around the 50s would be a great situation for us so he’s still getting his yards on the ground and he’s still helping us in the passing game.’’
Carson had just 20 receptions last season in 14 games, while Penny had nine on 12 targets, also playing in 14 games.
Mike Davis, who was the team’s primary third-down/two-minute back, a role that emphasizes receiving, was the Seahawks’ leading running-back receiver with 34 catches on 42 targets.
Davis is now gone, signed by the Bears as a free agent. Though there are ample candidates to replace Davis, led by veterans C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and rookie Travis Homer, Schottenheimer says the plan is also for Seattle to simply ride the hands of Carson and Penny more this season.
“That was something we went to right after the season,’’ Schottenheimer said. “We said, ‘Hey, look, Chris can help us win games a lot of ways,’ and one of the ways that he wasn’t last year was in the passing game. So it was something we went into it, he and (running-backs coach) Chad (Morton), the minute Chris came back it was something they talked about. Chris was really excited about it.’’
Targets aren’t the same as receptions. But if Carson were to somehow get to 50 receptions, it would be one of the best receiving seasons by a running back in team history.
According to Pro Football Reference, only 10 times in Seattle history has a running back had 50 or more receptions, with only three different running backs pulling it off: John L. Williams, Ricky Watters and Dan Doornink. Williams, who typically lined up as a fullback, has the most by a running back in Seattle history with 76 receptions in 1989. The last to have 50 or more was Watters with 63 in his final season with the team in 2000.
Seahawks could use Penny more as the third-down/two-minute back, assuring him a regular role. They could also use each as three-down backs, meaning that when each is on the field they don’t have to be replaced on passing downs in favor of another running back.
In Schottenheimer’s first season as offensive coordinator a year ago, the Seahawks emphasized a physical running game that was part of Carroll’s plan to try to get the team back to playing the kind of style that won it a Super Bowl in 2013.
And for all the debate about that philosophy, the numbers showed an offense that was vastly improved from the year before, ranking sixth in the NFL in points scored at 26.8 (up from 22.9 in 2017).
Schottenheimer said that running-game emphasis won’t ever change.
“We always want to be balanced,’’ he said. “But we are always going to be physical in everything that we do. The run helps us set up the play (action) pass. The play pass helps us set up the run.’’
Last year at this time, Schottenheimer was still getting to know Wilson and Carson and the rest, and they were still learning his offense.
Now, few introductions are needed.
“It’s always easier in Year 2,’’ Schottenheimer said. “You can add things, you can build off things that you maybe did last year whether you complement it or you protect it with other things. We’ve just been able to go so much faster. … We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time, so it’s been fun to have it that way.”
Here’s more of what we learned at Seahawks practice Tuesday:
A look at the starting units
With the Seahawks taking Wednesday off, Tuesday was an especially intense practice with the starting units getting a lot of work.
A few starters remain out, such as Bobby Wagner, Ziggy Ansah and Mike Iupati. But otherwise, the regular No. 1 units are what we could see Week 1 against the Bengals, and they have been largely unchanged throughout camp.
Here was the typical No. 1 offense: QB Wilson; RBs, Carson and Penny; FB Nick Bellore; TEs Nick Vannett and Will Dissly; LT Duane Brown, LG Ethan Pocic, C Justin Britt, RG D.J. Fluker, RT Germain Ifedi; WRs Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown and David Moore with DK Metcalf rotating in.
And here was the typical starting base defense: DEs Cassius Marsh and Quinton Jefferson, DTs Jarran Reed and Poona Ford; WLB K.J. Wright, MLB Cody Barton (with Wagner out and Austin Calitro appearing to get much of the day off), SLB Mychal Kendricks, CBs Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers with Kalan Reed as the nickel; safeties Tedric Thompson and Bradley McDougald.
The No. 2 offense typically looked like this way: QB Paxton Lynch; RB Penny; WRs Gary Jennings, Malik Turner, Keenan Reynolds and Jazz Ferguson; TEs Jackson Harris and Wes Saxton (with Ed Dickson and Jacob Hollister out); LT Elijah Nkansah, LG Demetrius Knox, C Joey Hunt, RG Jordan Roos, RT Marcus Martin (with Jamarco Jones sitting out Tuesday).
The typical No. 2 base defense looked this way: DEs Rasheem Green and Branden Jackson; DTs Al Woods and Earl Mitchell; MLB Barton or Ben Burr-Kirven, WLB Juwaun Johnson, SLB Juwon Young (with Shaquem Griffin back but limited); CBs Neiko Thorpe and Akeem King; safeties Marquise Blair and Lano Hill.
Lynch continues to state his case
Paxton Lynch has followed up his performance in the preseason opener with practices this week generally more consistent than those seen in the first two weeks.
Schottenheimer agreed that it seems as if Lynch gained confidence in the Denver game, when he went 11-15 for 109 yards and a touchdown and ran four times for 38 yards.
“He followed that game up, I think it was yesterday or the first practice, he had another great practice,’’ Schottenheimer said. “He’s stacking pieces together. Really good, game comes back after a day-and-a-half off has another really good practice. That’s good for anybody’s confidence.”
Barrett picking things up quickly
Geno Smith remains sidelined after surgery on Friday to remove a cyst from his knee. That has left Lynch getting all the backup reps in team periods behind Wilson with recently-signed J.T. Barrett still picking up the system.
Schottenheimer, though, said Barrett — who has been with the team for just four days — has shown to be a quick learner. Enough so that he said there’s a chance Barrett could get snaps against the Vikings.
“He has picked up the offense maybe as fast as anybody,’’ Schottenheimer said. “Tremendous, tremendous worker. We’re 10-11 installs in, and I don’t think that there’s not a play that he can at least begin to draw up. … He’s done an amazing job of picking it up. So yes, we’d love to get him some work if we could.”