‘More mature’ Penny ready to show 1st-round talent for Hawks

After an up-and-down rookie season, the young RB is determined to ‘be better than who I was last year.’

Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny runs a drill during training camp on July 25, 2019, in Renton. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny runs a drill during training camp on July 25, 2019, in Renton. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By Bob Condotta / The Seattle Times

RENTON — It wasn’t just that Rashaad Penny was exactly where he was supposed to be to catch a screen pass during the late stages of the second training camp practice of the year for the Seattle Seahawks on Friday that caught the eye of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but what he did next.

After securing the pass after having “hit his landmark perfectly,” Penny then turned upfield and ran as hard as he could up the sideline and to the end zone.

It’s something coaches preach for running backs and receivers to do every time they get the ball — run to daylight and finish the play.

But some players maybe do it with more enthusiasm and less coaxing than others, especially late in a workout when the temperatures are in the mid-80s.

A year ago, Schottenheimer said, Penny might not have attacked the run with the same vigor that he did Friday.

But that he did Friday, Schottenheimer said, spoke loudly about the progress Penny has made in his second season in the NFL after being taken in the first round by Seattle in the 2018 NFL draft.

“Today was his best day because he pushed himself,” Schottenheimer said. “And I told him it was fun to see him coming back and breathing heavy, which means he is finishing his runs.”

It’s an attention to detail that Penny readily admits might have been missing at times last season.

“I mean, it’s just competition now,” Penny said when asked about the play later. “As a rookie you don’t really see it like that. You come in as a first-rounder and you are already thinking like ‘wow, I’m here, I’m here.’ But you are really not.”

Penny learned particularly hard lessons when he broke a finger in practice following the first preseason game. He’d never been injured before and has said he “hit a wall” during the time he was out, not necessarily keeping himself in the shape he’d need to be in to pick up where he left off once he returned.

“I wasn’t doing the right things off the field,” he says. Don’t take that the wrong way — he doesn’t mean he was doing anything wrong. He just wasn’t doing everything right to make the most of being an NFL player, specifically in how he ate and slept.

In the offseason he hired a nutritionist — he’s listed at 220 pounds, but was above 230 for a time last season — and he said he has made sure to get the necessary sleep.

“Just trying to put the right things in my body,” he said. “Start sleeping better at night, recovery when you need it. It’s just all about doing all the right things.”

When taking into context his health — the finger injury slowed his early progress and then a knee injury cost him two more games late in the season — his rookie year wasn’t a complete bust.

He gained 108 yards against the Rams in Los Angeles and showed big-play capability in finishing the season averaging 4.9 yards per attempt, the best of any running back on the team.

But 419 total rushing yards — and twice going without a carry and reduced to playing special teams only — was hardly what was expected of a first-round pick. And not just a first-rounder, but a surprise one, at that. Many analysts thought the team could likely have gotten Penny, or someone similar, with a later pick, and running back hardly seemed like the team’s biggest need, particularly with the emergence of Chris Carson, who finished with 1,151 yards last season.

“Last year, I can’t let that define who I am,” Penny said. “So I mean, now I’ve got to be more mature and just handle business.”

Schottenheimer says he’s doing just that.

“He’s learning how to practice,” Schottenheimer said. “I talked a little in the spring about just him maturing and he is doing that. … The sky is the limit (for Penny). He’s a really talented young man.”

That, though, leads to the question of how the team will use Carson and Penny. Coach Pete Carroll has mentioned having a 1-2 punch, finding ways to give enough carries to each back every Sunday.

That each also catches the ball well enough opens additional options for how to use them.

Penny insists he’s not worried about it.

“We complement each other,” he said of Carson. “Chris is a big, bruising back. Has great speed and can make cuts that smaller backs can do, so there’s things he can do and I love working behind him because he sets the tone and he tires out the defense and me and other backs can maybe come in and try to go break off something big.”

Penny says you don’t have to look too far to find a good template for what the Seahawks’ backfield could be.

“I just want to have a great role with me and Chris,” he said. “I want to be like (Alvin) Kamara and (Mark) Ingram (of the Saints). They played such a great role together. So why not take after them?”

Ingram has since moved on to the Ravens, but last year rushed for 645 yards and six TDs while Kamara had 883 rushing yards and another 81 receptions for 709 yards in leading the Saints to a 13-3 record.

A lofty goal, to be sure. But Penny says he is setting high goals for this season. That, too, is different than a year ago, when he said he didn’t set any.

“Last year I didn’t,” he said. “But this year I definitely did because I want to be better than who I was last year.”

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