RENTON — All James Carpenter wanted was to be able to run. That seems an odd wish coming from a 6-foot-5, 321-pound offensive lineman.
For each offseason during his brief NFL career since becoming a first-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2011, Carpenter was undergoing or recovering from some surgery. So when the 2014 offseason arrived and Carpenter wasn’t in recovery mode, running was a joy.
“This time I was really able to run and I was excited about doing it,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter’s transformation has stood out during Seattle’s training camp. He’s down 15 pounds from where he finished last year and his conditioning has improved to where he doesn’t need to be in a rotation.
Carpenter will get his most extensive playing time of the preseason Friday night when the Seahawks host Chicago in the third preseason game for both clubs. He won’t be alone as both teams are expected to play their starters for at least the first half and possibly into the third quarter.
This is truly the dress rehearsal, especially for Seattle, which is unlikely to let its starters see much of the field next Thursday in Oakland with the season opener against Green Bay seven days later. That includes Marshawn Lynch, who coach Pete Carroll said would get some carries.
“We just want guys to play. We want them out there and get them play time just to get adapted to the new season again,” Carroll said. “As we stage it, this is the game they will play the most.”
Carpenter’s career has yet to match the expectations that came with being a first-round pick. He was supposed to be a tackle, but moved to guard after a major knee injury ended his rookie season early. Knee problems and a concussion ended his 2012 season early as well.
Last year, Carpenter was still in recovery mode, but Seattle wanted to get him on the field. He started 12 games and played in 18 of 19 during Seattle’s run to the title. Most of that time was spent in a rotation at left guard. Thanks to having a full offseason and making changes to his eating habits, Carpenter is in shape to have the position all to himself.
“I changed my diet, did a whole bunch of leg workouts trying to keep my legs strong, and ran,” Carpenter said. “Mostly that is what I was really focusing on. I missed being able to run all the time and that was my goal.”
Carpenter and the Seahawks’ starting offense was impressive last week against San Diego, scoring on all four drives in building a 24-0 lead. The Seahawks rolled up 260 yards in the first half against the Chargers. The Bears are the only preseason opponent for Seattle that is not on its regular-season schedule.
Chicago would like to see its run game get started after stumbling through the first two games. The Bears had 79 yards rushing last week against Jacksonville after running for 92 yards in the preseason opener versus Philadelphia. While his chances have been limited, Matt Forte has seven carries for minus-7 yards thus far.
“I don’t think it is a concern for us right now. We’ll get it going when we extremely need it,” Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler said. “We had an emphasis of getting Matt the ball, whether it was running or passing, he was a huge part of this offense. Offensive line, we’ll figure it out.”
Chicago’s pass game has been just fine. Four quarterbacks combined to throw for 402 yards and four touchdowns against Philadelphia. Getting tested by Seattle and the top secondary in the NFL will only help heading into the regular season.
“It’s a game to get ourselves better,” Chicago coach Marc Trestman said. “The environment’s going to help us, we look at it as an opportunity to help us.”