No team gets through an NFL preseason unscathed. But losing to injuries the top draftee, as well as potentially the most improved player, for the season puts the Seahawks among the leaders in the clubhouse for travails endured. Throw in a sucker punch from a teammate that knocked last year’s top draftee through three days of practice, and the Seahawks are something less than bacon-wrapped ice cream.
At least there is RB Chris Carson.
The seventh-round draftee from Oklahoma State likely will be the biggest early contributor among the newbies. The top pick, DE Malik McDowell, apparently went head over ATV handlebars in a mysterious offseason accident that isn’t likely to allow him to play this season. The rest of the draftees show promise, but not instant gratification.
George Fant, the accidental left tackle a year ago who seemed on the verge of, well, average things, blew out his knee Friday in a 20-13 win over Minnesota. He has surgery booked Monday and is done until 2018, leaving the tentative Rees Odhiambo, a second-year pro from Boise State, who jumped in Friday with two sacks allowed and a holding penalty.
After DE Frank Clark flattened a helmetless RT Germain Ifedi in a training-camp melee, apologies were made and accepted. But the members of the Seahawks offensive line, as tradition has it, cannot afford to take one minute off, lest they find themselves mooshed in opponents’ tank treads. The lost time was particularly grievous because it was a total knucklehead move.
Thus the Seahawks nation turns its lonely eyes to Carson, who appears to be fourth in line at a position where the first three have had surgeries the previous season. Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and C.J. Prosise all began camp healthy, but Rawls sat out last week with a minor sprained ankle, and Prosise was held out because of a tight groin muscle.
Lacy, who lost his job in Green Bay last season partly due to being overweight, is at any moment a Double Cholesterol Jack away from a Mr. Creosote moment.
Yes, the Seahawks won fairly easily exhibition games over the Vikings and Chargers. But that and $25 will get you a nice car wash where the workers return to you the coins they find on the car floor.
Friday comes the Kansas City Chiefs. The third preseason game is nominally the dress rehearsal game for the regular season. But if Rawls and Prosise are still too tender for service, Lacy and Carson figure to get the bulk of the carries, so do stay alert for No. 32.
Tom Cable has noticed. Asked what most impresses the Seahawks O-line coach about Carson, he said, “How smooth he is. He’s made some cuts in practice where he sticks his foot in the ground — the great ones, and I’m not calling him great, so ease up on that. But a great runner can gain yardage whether he’s going right or left. He’s still moving forward. He’s really smooth that way.”
That’s a style upon which coach Pete Carroll insists, which is hard on running backs but also why the Seahawks were among the NFL’s top four rushing teams in each of the previous four seasons until 2016.
It’s why Christine Michael is no longer on the team, and why Carroll insisted on expending Seattle’s final draft pick on Carson instead of waiting to try to cut him out of the herd of undrafted free agents.
Last year, the first without Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks were 25th in rushing, a thou-shalt-not abomination listed high in the book of First Carrollians. The coach explained his desires bluntly in the club’s draft-room call to Carson notifying him of his selection. Here’s what Carroll said:
“Remember your style: You’re gonna hammer it. Physical, tough, knock the (crap) out of ‘em. Special teams is a really big deal too. But bringing the attitude — there’s only one way for you to play. You know that. You were a little uncertain at times. But now you know that, because you and I are agreeing on that, right?”
A few minutes later, Carson was on a teleconference with Seattle reporters explaining how it went down on his end:
“I was getting kind of nervous. I wanted to get my name called. I had talked to a lot of teams about being signed as a free agent. Then Seattle called me, and I just got excited to see that number pop up. I talked to the coaches there, and I started crying. I started to tear up a little bit. I’m just blessed to be in this situation.”
At 6 feet and 218 pounds of sculpted muscle mass, Carson looks the NFL part. In 13 carries in the two preseason games, he’s gained 45 yards, but it’s the short-yardage impact that stands out. His one-yard touchdown run against Minnesota was a full Beast Mode hyper-drive that knocked his tackler backward.
“I just feel I can do it all,” he said after practice Wednesday. “Run the ball up the middle, but I have enough speed to get outside. I have no problem catching the ball out of the backfield.”
Perhaps his most important awakening in camp was not about football but how to eat and sleep.
“The biggest thing so far is learning to take care of my body — the most important thing to me,” he said. “I didn’t know too much about that in high school and college. Once I got here, being around the veterans (helps me) see how they do it.”
Born in Biloxi, Miss., and raised in Georgia, he had a scholarship offer from the University of Georgia but an ACL tear denied him. He played two years at a Kansas community college before taking an offer from Oklahoma State.
He played in only 21 games for the Cowboys, losing four games his senior year due to a thumb injury. But in that senior year of 82 carries, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry, with a long of 26. That suggests a fellow interested in traveling the hard miles.
That perhaps explains why his favorite player growing up was Jerome Bettis, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fabled “Bus” who ran over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
Seahawks fans may not be thrilled to hear that name. But in a preseason pickled with some pain, the idea of dealing some offers a certain pleasure.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.