CARSON, Calif. — The Seahawks just (re)discovered two running backs.
Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise, welcome back to prominence.
Penny, the first-round draft choice criticized more than bad coffee around Seattle, showed what he can do playing behind starting linemen, for a change. He ran past defenders. He caught passes and made yards without any blocking, running around tacklers. On a fourth-down touchdown run from the 3-yard line, he ran through them.
Then Prosise re-emerged.
The tantalizing, frustrating third-round draft choice from 2016 has had 10 different health issues in three season plus this training camp with the Seahawks. Heck, he even missed the first day of this preseason’s camp because he was sick.
Saturday, he ran slickly for a first down. Then he bulldozed for a touchdown. And he didn’t get hurt.
Penny’s rebound Prosise’s brilliant flash in the second quarter led Seattle to a 23-15 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in its third preseason game on a warm So Cal Saturday night.
“It was a really good night for C.J.,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It’s been such a struggle for him.”
Yes, it was way more than just an exhibition game for Prosise.
“It’s definitely a return,” said the running back who has had 10 injuries in three-plus years in the NFL, all with the patient Seahawks. “It’s my first game I’ve played in almost, really, a year. It’s definitely a return.”
Carroll appreciated Seattle’s return to what it led the league in last season: running the ball. After two preseason games more throwing it, the Seahawks gained 185 yards on the ground. The starting line plowed for Chris Carson, Penny, Prosise and even quarterback Russell Wilson for 125 yards on 21 runs in the first half.
“This game worked out really well for us. We had some objectives that we wanted to attend to. We really wanted to run the football,” Carroll said.
“We were really happy to get that done. … Just what we had hoped.”
Wilson completed 6 of 9 passes, just as he did last weekend in his first preseason action at Minnesota. He had 73 yards and a passer rating of 91.4. He also ran three times for 31 yards, yet we can debate the wisdom of those runs by the $140 million franchise quarterback in a game that doesn’t count.
For the preseason, Wilson has completed 12 of 18 throws for 155 yards and a passer rating of 93.5.
That’s likely the last time Wilson will play this month. He hasn’t played in each of the last two preseason finales in 2017 and ‘18.
Carroll hinted at that when he said his reserves need to get sharper. They let a 23-3 lead become a one-score game in the fourth quarter.
“We have to get better with those guys next week,” Carroll said of his reserves, “because they are going to play the whole game (the preseason finale against Oakland Thursday at CenturyLink Field).”
Is Wilson and the starting offense ready for the regular season, which begins in two weekends?
“I think we feel great. We’ve been ready,” Wilson said.
“I think we are ready. We are prepared to go on this journey.”
Geno Smith replaced him early in the second quarter and played into the fourth quarter, building Seattle’s 23-3 lead. Smith, battling concussed Paxton Lynch to be Wilson’s backup this season, looked sharp eluding pressure and throwing on the run. The former New York Jets and Giants starter completed 11 of 18 throws for 117 yards. He ran for a touchdown of 8 yards in the third quarter.
Smith said his left knee from which surgeons removed a cyst two weeks ago is not fully healed, but that it’s good enough to re-join Lynch in the competition for the number-two QB job.
Penny had 12 carries for 13 total yards in the first two preseason games. Last weekend at Minnesota, he went backwards: six carries for minus-2 yards. But as coach Pete Carroll explained, rightly, Seattle’s reserve line depleted by a half-dozen injuries to blockers gave Penny next to no room. On five of his six carries against the Vikings, defenders were in his face in the backfield.
“I know how to evaluate that,” Carroll said this past week.
Everyone knows how to evaluate Penny’s night in suburban L.A., near where he grew up.
He was part of Carroll and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer again doing what they will when the games get real beginning Sept. 8: run first, and run often. By early in the second quarter, Chris Carson, Penny, Prosise, Wilson and even wide receiver Tyler Lockett (on a fly sweep) had run 18 times for 104 yards, 4.8 yards per rush.
Penny replaced Carson (three rushes, 23 yards) for the entirety of the second drive for the Seahawks’ starting offense. Penny’s first run on the series went for seven yards, which is five more than he had on six rushes last week behind Seattle’s reserve, makeshift offensive line.
Two plays after he ran for 9 yards, on a third down in the red zone, Penny made four Chargers miss after a catch of a dump-off pass by Wilson. All of his own, with no blocking, he set up fourth and 1 at the L.A. 3.
Penny followed center Justin Britt into the end zone, never stopping his leg churn from the 3 across the goal line for Seattle’s first points.
On that play, in that way, he looked a lot like the relentless Carson, Seattle’s 1,110-yard back from last season.
That figures. Penny said after the game he and Carson have been working for 30 minutes after every practice this month on balance and leverage.
“It’s paying off,” he said.
Carroll pumped his fist and yelled while going up and down the sideline to his starting offense after Penny’s TD.
That touchdown drive included Wilson in vintage, deep-regular-season form. On a second and 18 he did a quick, half rollout to the right. He zipped a dart onto the chest of Lockett, who settled and turned his route back to Wilson in a soft place of the Chargers’ zone coverage. Just like that: 20 yards and a Seahawks first down.
Prosise’s flash Saturday is why the Seahawks have kept him on the roster going into the final year of his rookie contract.
The former Notre Dame wide receiver trying to retain a place in the offense this season as a third-down back, ran for 26 yards on three consecutive smooth gallops in the middle of the second quarter. That got the Seahawks to the 5-yard line.
Wilson then threw a jump-ball fade pass in the end zone to 6-foot-5 Jazz Ferguson. Overmatched Los Angeles starting cornerback Michael Davis had no choice but to grab Ferguson before the ball arrived to prevent another preseason touchdown by the undrafted rookie. After that pass-interference foul, Prosise ran behind a stalemating block in the middle by reserve center Joey Hunt for a touchdown. That put the Seahawks ahead 13-3.
You could almost feel Prosise exhale all the way up into the press box. His teammates celebrated all over him in the end zone, and on the sideline.
Prosise was the third-down back during the 2-minute drill at the end of the half, run by Smith. Prosise made a juggling catch in traffic on a swing pass. He ran with that for 15 yards and a first down to get Seattle off its own goal line. The Seahawks eventually got a 58-yard field goal by Jason Myers to end that drive to increase their lead to 16-3 at halftime.
“I’m just excited,” Prosise said. “I’m excited to be back out there. It’s fun. I love playing this game. Having it taken away the last few years has been tough for me. Going out there and just everything, all the hard work, coming to fruition tonight is really just making me happy.
“I’m just excited for the season. …I definitely had something to prove.”