One week after being designated to return to practice from injured reserve, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll didn't offer up an encouraging progress report on running back Chris Carson on Wednesday.
Speaking with reporters, Carroll initially didn't have much to offer on Carson's status, simply saying he wouldn't practice. When asked if the player had a setback returning from a neck injury, while he didn't use that verbiage and didn't provide many details, he admitted the back hasn't made strides as hoped while trying to work back into game action.
"What I would say is that we didn't make the progress that we had hoped," Carroll said. "We're still working with it. I don't have a good update for you. If you don't mind, wait a couple more days and we'll have more. But he didn't make the positive progress forward that we wanted, so we just have to wait."
Out since Week 5, Carson has missed each of the Seahawks' past five games nursing an undisclosed neck injury that Carroll cited as a "long-term" issue. After sitting out a 26-17 loss to the Rams, he landed on injured reserve prior to Week 6 and despite practicing twice last week with no reported physical discomfort, the team decided he wasn't quite ready to play and didn't activate him to the 53-man roster.
Currently ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing offense, Seattle has missed Carson's physical, bruising presence out of the backfield. While Carroll doesn't think his absence has altered play calling for offensive coordinator Shane Waldron much, the team has placed a bit more emphasis on outside runs with Alex Collins, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, and Rashaad Penny seeking much-needed offensive balance.
"It's not so much that, although you'll notice we are working to get the ball to the perimeter with some of our guys," Carroll explained. "We do that to try to gain an edge. I just think it's going to look better than it's looked. We need it to and that will part of the turnaround."
Without Carson, Collins has started each of the past five games despite nursing a groin injury of his own, rushing for 278 yards and a touchdown. Most of that production came in a loss to the Steelers in Week 6 when he surpassed 100 rushing yards for the first time since 2017, the same game where he exited late with his injury.
Behind him, Penny hasn't been able to get anything going with 15 carries for 24 yards on the season, while Homer has been a pleasant surprise in a third down role rushing 10 times for 64 yards and adding 11 receptions for 128 yards.
"I like our group, it's a competitive group and unfortunately, Alex has been hampered a little bit by a groin thing the last few weeks," Carroll said. "But he's still playing and getting through there... He's doing good with the work we're giving him and we need to give him more. But I'm anxious to see us mix our guys a bit more and more runs will allow us to do that."
As has been the case for weeks given the nature of his injury and the position he plays, it isn't a slam dunk Carson will return for the Seahawks. Once players are designated to return to practice off injured reserve, teams have a 21-day window to activate them to the 53-man roster or they revert to injured reserve and miss the remainder of the season.
Already in the second week of that window, the clock is ticking for Seattle to make a decision on Carson. If he isn't deemed ready to play before Week 12 when the team travels to Washington, a difficult decision awaits Carroll and the coaching staff. Do they activate him with hopes he can play in the next few weeks? Or due to the lack of progress, do they shut him down?
If Carson was dealing with a sore knee or a sprained ankle, the Seahawks would be much more likely to activate him under such circumstances. But precaution must be exercised with a neck injury, particularly for a running back who constantly absorbs hits from opposing defenders and leaves the head/neck area more vulnerable.
Record must also be kept in consideration with such a decision, as Seattle currently sits in last place in the NFC West with a 3-6 record. If the team rattles off a couple wins to draw closer to .500 and climb back into playoff contention, bringing Carson back would be far more justifiable than if the team continues to falter.
For now, based on what Carroll said on Wednesday, odds don't look good for Carson to play against the Cardinals this weekend. As the Seahawks have done for over a month, they will have to continue leaning on Collins as his replacement while rotating Homer, Dallas, and Penny into action as they try to spark a struggling run game.