Rashaad Penny’s rookie season hasn’t exactly gone how he or the Seahawks would have envisioned when he was selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
During a training camp in which he showed considerable promise, Penny broke his finger, an injury that caused him to miss Seattle’s final three preseason games. Penny made it back for the start of the season, but that time off slowed his progress, and with Chris Carson and Mike Davis playing so well ahead of him, Penny had a pretty limited role in Seattle’s offense during the first half of the season.
Things changed for Penny on Sunday, however, and given his most extensive playing time of the season, Penny took advantage in Seattle’s 36-31 loss at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, not far from his hometown of Norwalk, Calif. Carson was inactive due to the hip injury that caused him to leave last week’s game early, and while Davis got the starting nod, it was Penny who led the way on what was a very big day for Seattle’s running game. Penny, who took his first carry 38 yards, then scored on his second run, an 18-yard touchdown, finished the game with a team-high 108 yards on 12 carries. As an offense, the Seahawks rushed for 273 yards, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, with Davis adding 58 yards on 11 carries and Russell Wilson gaining a season-high 92 yards on nine carries.
Penny, Davis and Carson now all have had 100-yard games this season, marking the first time three different running backs have done that for the Seahawks since 2015 when Marshawn Lynch, Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael all had 100-yard performances. Sunday’s game was also Seattle’s sixth straight game with 150 or more rushing yards, the longest such streak in team history. And the Seahawks had that big rushing performance Sunday despite playing against a very talented Rams defensive line while without starting right guard D.J. Fluker and Carson.
“That’s just a statement about the guys running the football and up front,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It doesn’t matter who’s up there or who’s running with it. I think Penny had 100 yards today, a fantastic job by Rashaad, it was great to see him bust out like that. But that isn’t a surprise, because we’ve seen other guys do the same thing too—Mike has done it, Chris has done it. Really just the whole thing is fitting together where we are able to show that kind of consistency. We’ve got to make it win for us, we didn’t get a win today, but it certainly will a bunch of times.”
Carroll also praised the play of Jordan Simmons, who made his first career start in place of Fluker, and held his own against an interior defensive line featuring Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald: “I thought it was an unbelievable job by Jordan Simmons today, he played the whole game—he never even played before—and stepping up and doing that was fantastic.”
Penny has showed promise in spurts, rushing for 49 yards on nine carries in a Week 4 win at Arizona, the other game Carson missed this season, as well as a 43-yard performance on nine carries against Oakland. But he also has had two games without a carry, including the previous meeting with the Rams, and overall has not been as involved as he or the team would have hoped.
Penny admitted that the lack of playing time had gotten to him at times, saying, “Definitely, when you don’t get that many opportunities, you know, you look at it like, ‘Man, I can’t do any of these things, because I just need the opportunity to.’ That’s just me being young. I feel like I’ve grown up the last two to three weeks. I have to say once my opportunity comes just go all out and ball.”
Penny credited his fellow running backs and linemen for keeping him in the right mindset whenever frustration crept up, and while he wanted to be playing more, he also understood why the Seahawks were going with Carson and Davis.
“When you’ve got guys like Chris and Mike who are rolling, you don’t want to stop them,” Penny said. “When they’re hot and we’re winning games, you want to keep going with what’s hot and winning games … Unfortunately Chris couldn’t go, so I had to step up, I had to grow up. Coach Carroll believed in me. Offensive coordinator, running back coach, everyone believed in me.
“We’ve got a lot of great guys on this offense who can do everything. Just like anyone else, I just needed an opportunity, then when you get it you’ve got to go out there and make the most of it. That’s what a lot of guys have done.”
In addition to those two big runs on Seattle’s second touchdown drive, Penny also had a 24-yard run on a third-quarter touchdown drive, showing the burst and vision the Seahawks saw in him when they drafted him out of San Diego State.
“He looked great today, he looked great,” Carroll said. “He looked just like the guy we thought he would look like when we drafted him. I go back all the way back before he got hurt and he had to miss a month with his broken finger, that’s what he looked like, and today he just busted out. We’ve been on him hard, we’ve been challenging him to get right and to work at the right tempo, find what it’s like to be a pro. We’re just teaching him, he’s a young guy figuring it out, and he has been very open, very receptive. There’s just a lot that goes into helping a guy find himself. Today, he needed it so badly. He knows he’s a great player; he just hasn’t been able to demonstrate it the way he wants to. He was frustrated by it. So we’ve worked him through it, and I was just hoping he’d get a chance in one of these games to get the opportunity to show it, and maybe from this point forward you’ll see him just take off. He looked fantastic today, and that’s great for us.”