SEATTLE — A year ago around this time the Seattle Seahawks were suddenly scrambling for running backs, losing Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise to season-ending injuries in a three-week span in December.
Now, as another season nears its end, the Seahawks will soon be faced with the “good problem” of trying to figure out how to divide the snaps and carries in a crowded backfield.
Carson and Carlos Hyde have each returned to full duty in recent weeks, and as soon as Sunday’s game at Washington could be joined by Penny.
Penny, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2018 out of San Diego State, officially returned to practice last week after recovering from a knee injury suffered last Dec. 8, opening a 21-day window in which he can practice before the team has to activate him to the 53-player roster or put him back on IR.
But the way coaches tell it, the only question about Penny is when he’ll be back on the roster, not if.
“He looks terrific,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told reporters via Zoom Thursday. “He’s looking fast, he’s looking explosive. … I think he just looks as good as you could expect him to. I think he’s getting really close to being ready to go.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson was equally as effusive about how Penny has looked when he talked after practice.
“I’m super excited for Penny just how hard he’s worked his tail off just to get back from the injury that he had and how confident he’s looking out there,” Wilson said of Penny, who had 370 yards and a team-best 5.7 yards per carry average last year before being injured, including a career-high 129 yards on 14 carries against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks before he was sidelined.
The Seahawks could play it cautious and wait another week to bring Penny back for the Dec. 27 showdown for the NFC West against the Los Angeles Rams — the team against which he was injured a year ago.
But having a game to get his feet wet some before the Rams contest might make sense, too, especially if the team thinks Penny is truly ready to play again after recovering from an ACL injury.
Once Penny comes back then the question will be how to fit him in with Carson and Hyde. But one role Penny could fill is the two-minute/third-down back position, especially with Travis Homer continuing to deal with a knee injury (Homer could go on IR to open up a roster spot for Penny).
But Schottenheimer said what you’d expect — it’s a lot better dealing with a full backfield than the depleted group Seattle had at the end of last season, when the Seahawks had to bring back Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin, or even earlier this year when the Seahawks had to call up Alex Collins and Bo Scarbrough from the practice squad to see significant action.
“There was one game we were trying guys out and seeing ‘okay, hey can you run the ball? Can you do this, can you do that?’ ” Schottenheimer said. “So it’s a good situation to have. And what I’ve noticed is these guys all cheer for each other. They’re competing, they want to be great. But if Chris scores, Carlos is excited. If Rashaad would rip off a big run last year Chris would be excited. So they cheer for each other, and that friendly competition is cool to see.”