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Rashaad Penny looks best Seahawks have seen him. He says he feels like he's in high school

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 7/30/2021 Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Jul. 30—RENTON — (Don't) stop Rashaad Penny if you've heard this before.

He's lost weight. A lot of it. He's faster. He's healthy again. He's ready to prove he's the first-round pick the Seahawks selected three, agonizing, frustrating years ago.

"I'm the lightest I've ever been. I honestly feel like I'm back in high school again," the 25-year-old running back said Thursday, on his second training-camp day of looking leaner and faster than he did in any of his first three, injury-filled NFL seasons with Seattle.

Penny played at 235 pounds at San Diego State, where he led major-college football in rushing with 2,248 yards with 23 touchdowns in 2017.

He says he's 223 pounds now. That's even two pounds lighter than his coach Pete Carroll listed him at on Wednesday.

"I feel way faster," Penny said.

The always-sunny Carroll is almost wowed.

"He looks great. He worked out here all throughout the offseason, and it really paid off," the coach said.

"Best he's looked since we've seen him."

Through two practices of training camp, Seattle's second running back to the sculpted Chris Carson has shown more speed. He's more explosive into the line, off blocks and up the field—albeit in no-pads, no-contact scrimmages. Defenders cannot do more than wrap their arms around the shoulders of sprinting ball carriers at this stage of training camp.

Yet when Carson and Penny galloped free on long runs on consecutive plays that wowed the 1,000 or so fans watching and roaring from the berm alongside the field Thursday, it was still noticeable.

And, for Penny, more than noteworthy.

He spent the entire offseason in Seattle conditioning and training with the Seahawks' staff rather than between doctor visits and rehabilitation work at home in southern California. He said that led him to lose more weight, being around more football drills he enjoys all winter into spring and summer instead of rehabilitating from injuries on treadmills and the like.

"That was definitely part of the goal, to lose weight and to be effective. I felt the lighter I am, the more explosive I can be," he said. "Me training here with Travis Homer—I don't try to look like Chris Carson and do his workouts—but, I definitely try to do what I can do and get to where I need to be."

Penny is, for right now, anyway, where he needs to be. This is an opportune time for him to be off to a literally fast start to this Seattle training camp.

It could be his last.

His contract year

In May, Carroll and general manager John Schneider decided not to exercise Seattle's contract option on Penny for 2022.

All players drafted into the NFL get four-year rookie contracts. Per the league's collective bargaining agreement, first-round picks have the opportunities for fifth years, at the option and decision of their drafting teams and at a cost set by the league. That cost is based on an average of top-performing salaries at each position.

Penny was Seattle's 27th-overall choice in 2018. Had the team picked up his option for next year, he would have had $4.52 million guaranteed to play for the Seahawks in 2022, plus all $1.95 million of his 2021 salary guaranteed.

Those are steep guarantees to pay for a running back, the league's most injury-prone position—particularly one who has has yet to stay healthy and available for all 16 games of a regular season in his first three NFL years.

Penny was out from December 2019 to December 2020 after he tore knee ligaments running in the open field during a game two seasons ago at the Los Angeles Rams. He returned to rush 11 times for 34 yards in three games late last season.

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He broke his finger days into his NFL career in 2018, early in his rookie training camp. He was behind all that debut year after that, then had leg injuries. He missed six of 16 regular-season games in 2019, and 13 of 16 games last year.

Now he's back behind Carson, showing glimpses of potentially sustaining the tandem the Seahawks have envisioned since the night they spent their top pick on Penny in 2018.

Just in time for the offense to recommit to the run.

New Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, the former passing-game coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, plans to use Carson and Penny in more varied ways this season. The running backs are likely to be split out wide as receivers on the line or even in the slot. The offense is going to be based more on quick runs oriented more outside than Seattle's rushes have been in recent seasons.

"(It) is a dream come true for guys like Chris and a guy like Rashaad," Carroll said. "The fits of the runs, the style of the things we are doing, and how we are coaching them is really exciting."

Penny loves it. It's what he did in that 2,000-yard season at San Diego State that made him a first-round pick.

In that sense, he's ahead of Carson and perhaps even quarterback Russell Wilson in having experience in the basics of Waldron's system.

"It's everything I've done in college. It's the same exact playbook. It's nothing different than what I did," Penny said. "I love the perimeter game. They love to get me on the outside, and that's the majority of what this playbook is. Then, to open up the pass game with the talented receivers we have and trying to create a one-two punch with Chris, that's the biggest thing. ...

"I think it fits me very well."

So does Carson.

'I love that dude, man'

Seattle's number-one running back is the headliner who has been blocking Penny's path to starting throughout his NFL career so far.

Yet Carson and Penny are tight. They spend many hours inside the Seahawks locker room talking, laughing and sharing.

Some saw Carson entering free agency this spring as a huge chance for Penny to step up into the starting role. Those same folks saw Carson eventually returning to Seattle on a two-year deal worth $14,625,000 with $5.5 million guaranteed in 2021 as a blow to Penny.

Those folks don't know Penny and Carson.

"I was begging him to come back, actually," Penny said.

"I said it before: a lot of people take it as like I'm supposed to hate him. I love that dude, man. He took me in on my first day when I got here.

"It's a big competition thing, and that's how we see it. Like today, we finished runs and always compete against each other, but at the end of the day we sit down and talk about it in the locker room saying 'You got me here!', or 'You got me there!'

The running back coaches do an amazing job at instilling that in our mindset of competing every day and just trying to beat each other. Then, we come back and laugh about it in the meetings and do it again tomorrow."

How many more tomorrows does Penny have with the Seahawks?

Rather than look at his team not picking up his option as a negative, Penny sees the fact he's even still on the team as a testament to Carroll's and Schneider's ongoing faith in him.

They still believe he has first-round talent.

He just needs first-rate health.

"It's just a blessing, man. I just thank God every day that I'm healthy," Penny said. "It's not something that I'm used to (being hurt).

"I've never been in that situation before, where I've been hurt, just lingering issues. It's very frustrating. ...

"I'm thankful they still believe in me. That's the biggest thing.

"Me maturing from my rookie year to now, it came a long way."

Humbled by hurting so much, Penny has two, relatively basic goals for this final year of his contract.

Neither involve yards or touchdowns.

"I'm just happy to be available," he said.

"(And) just my consistency, alone; that's all I've got to do, is just put it together. Those are the two biggest areas that I'm worried about.

"The plan will do its talking for itself."


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