Seahawks: Penny's SDSU background improves NFL chances

His football color scheme has changed from red and black to dark blue and neon green — but Rashaad Penny, the former San Diego State running back, said his Rocky Long-shaped, rugged Aztecs pedigree is improving his chances of NFL success with the Seattle Seahawks, a bloody-your-nose outfit.

Penny, a 5-foot-11 running back who’s heavy by NFL standards at 236 pounds yet also fast, said both teams are fundamental in their devotion to “power” and “downhill” run designs, and to developing the muscle memory and toughness needed to carry out such withering duty.

“It’s the same,” Penny said, appreciatively. “I didn’t take anything different from San Diego State to Seattle.”

In the draft this year, Seattle went larger on Penny than his media-draftnik rankings would’ve indicated. Picking him at No. 27 was also a break from Seattle’s habit of trading out of the first round where guaranteed money is much steeper.

But in a recent chat with the Union-Tribune, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the abundance of Seahawks-style runs on Penny’s SDSU game tape increased the comfort of the evaluation.

“They continue to stay with the physical approach and the running game and all that,” Carroll said of Long and staff.

“It’s part of the reason that we went after their guy, because he showed us the stuff we needed to see.”

Spread, pass-flinging offenses are the rage in college football.

Long is devoted to the sledgehammer.

A kindred spirit is fellow old coach Carroll, 66, who drew a parallel between Long, 68, and his own devotion to smashmouth while coaching USC.

“When we were at SC, we didn’t want to become a spread offense,” Carroll said. “We wanted to be a very balanced team as well. We always stayed with running the football, and we thought it gave us an edge. Look at Alabama. Look how they’re doing it. They continue to stay with the physical approach and the running game and all that, and I think it’s obvious that that gives you a chance to be successful, and that’s what Coach (Long) has done.”

Spread devotees have collected trophies, too. And NFL rules favor the pass — which spreads the defense for run plays, too — but Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon noted that Carroll’s core values have translated into two Super Bowl trips including Seattle’s lone Super Bowl trophy.

“What you have when you can run the ball, you have a chance to run the clock, you have a chance to eat up a lot of time of possession, and it keeps your defense fresh so that when they come in, they run around and fly to the football,” said Moon, a Seahawks broadcaster.

“What you have to remember is,” said the ex-QB, “we also have a quarterback in Russell Wilson who is probably one of the top-5 quarterbacks in the league. So, we’re going to throw for a lot of yards, too.”

A smart plan is important. Living up to it is harder.

The Seahawks have lacked a sturdy ground game since the decline and departure of Marshawn Lynch, the explosive and powerful rusher who pounded opponents for each Super Bowl club

Successors to Lynch have fizzled. Some couldn’t hack it. Others fell to injury. None came close to matching the reliable Lynch, whom Carroll and General Manager John Schneider traded for in 2010 in their first year together.

Have the Seahawks recovered since opting not to give Lynch the ball with the Super Bowl on the line four years ago? Probably not.

Will Penny be different from the other would-be successors?

“The guy has extraordinary talent,” said the Aztecs coach who knows Penny best, offensive coordinator Jeff Horton.

Horton said the speed of regular-season NFL football awaiting Penny will challenge any rookie, and Moon said that NFL edge rushers — a freakishly athletic species — pose perhaps the biggest challenge for a rookie back because blitz pick-up is essential.

But Horton, mindful that NFL collisions are far more forceful than Mountain West collisions, singled out another critical aspect to Penny’s transition.

“He’ll have to really understand how important it is to take care of your body,” said the coach. “Work extra on your stretching. Go to the training room, and let them work extra on your body. Especially your legs. Your legs are your lifeline, and it’s a long season.

“I think talent-wise, he’ll be fine.”

Penny’s meal ticket is a thick-legged yet supple and fast-twitch body that weighed 231 pounds eight months ago for SDSU’s bowl against Army.

He slimmed to 220 in March for the NFL Scouting Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. He regained the weight plus two pounds as of Aug. 21 and added three more pounds in recent days. Horton quipped that going from hamburger at SDSU to steak in the NFL has increased Penny’s intake.

It’s a much faster game, though. Where Penny could “bounce” runs for SDSU by simply jetting around defenses, he said NFL speed mandates a more north-south approach.

“In this NFL, in this day and age, you don’t think about bouncing the run,” the rookie said. “You’ve got to take what you can get. And that is something that I have learned from these coaches and just the head coach in general.”

Good blocking helps. There, the Seahawks have fallen off since their Super Bowl era.

However, Moon said Penny stands to benefit from fellow SDSU alum Mike Solari, the team’s new offensive line coach.

Moon detects improved blocking and a better mesh between talent and scheme under NFL veteran Solari, a 63-year-old who played for Aztecs coach Claude Gilbert in the mid-1970s and began his coaching career at Mission Bay High.

Penny, for his part, said he’s indebted to his Aztecs coaches. He’s grateful they didn’t coddle him.

“Coach Long, being taught that ‘tough’ football, and the mental aspect as well, and just being physical — that’s all from the college I came from, and the system that Coach Long brings,” he said. “I loved every minute in that system, because it allowed me to be who I am today. It also humbled me. And, I’m glad to be a part of this situation. Because if it wasn’t for those guys at San Diego State I wouldn’t be here.”

Seattle’s season opener comes Sept. 9 at Denver.