Practice Makes Perfect as Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny Turns in Career Day
As pressure has mounted from the outside, Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny hasn’t been oblivious to the criticism of his performance during his second season.
With Seattle riding Chris Carson as the workhorse in the backfield, opportunities have been few and far between for Penny. The former first-round pick out of San Diego State entered Sunday’s game in Philadelphia with only 36 rushing attempts for 167 rushing yards on the season and his snaps had further diminished in recent weeks.
“It’s been a big test,” Penny said following a 17-9 victory. “But it’s [about] me just staying poised, staying who I am and patiently waiting my turn, just trying to prove that I can play.”
Providing a spark in a tightly contested defensive slugfest against the Eagles, Penny made every one of his snaps count on Sunday, rushing for a career-best 129 yards on just 14 carries and scoring his second touchdown of the year.
Though the young back has been frustrated by his lack of playing time, coach Pete Carroll indicated Penny has “practiced marvelously” over the past three weeks and couldn’t have been happier to see him finally break out.
“We really wanted him to play today and get him in there and see what would happen because he's looked so good in practice,” Carroll told reporters following the game. “He came through beautifully. It was a really sweet game for him.”
While Philadelphia’s stout defensive line made running between the tackles difficult for Carson and met him in the backfield frequently, Penny’s blazing speed gave Jim Schwartz’s defense fits. His ability to ignite his afterburners in open field proved to be a major difference maker for Seattle.
Bringing extra juice to Seattle’s run game, Penny rushed for 20 or more yards on three separate carries, including putting a dagger in the Eagles early in the fourth quarter.
With Seattle nursing a 10-3 lead and facing a 1 and 20 situation after a holding penalty on tackle George Fant, Penny took the handoff to the right. With a big hole in front of him created by blocks from guard Mike Iupati and center Joey Hunt, he rocketed past Philadelphia’s linebackers at the second level.
With nothing but green in front of him, Penny turned on the jets and finished a 58-yard touchdown run with authority, shrugging off a desperation tackle attempt by cornerback Ronald Darby before finding his way into the end zone to extend Seattle’s lead to 14 points.
Down to 230 pounds, nearly 10 pounds lighter than his playing weight as a rookie in 2019, Penny “most definitely” feels and looks faster than he did last year. He owes the marked improvements to his decision to hire a nutritionist and a re-dedication to his craft.
“I’m doing way better than what I’ve done in the past. I’ve stopped eating McDonald’s - that was hard for me. But then I just started getting more serious about football. Having great body weight and great body shape takes you a long way as a running back.”
As part of his transformation, Penny has surprisingly become a big fan of greens such as broccoli, something he never could’ve envisioned before making dramatic diet changes starting in the spring. The only bad part? He can’t enjoy his mother’s burgers and lasagna.
“Every time I go back home,” Penny laughed. “She just chops up grilled chicken and gives me salad. Everybody else eats Little Caesar’s.”
Finally able to establish a rhythm against the Eagles, Penny showed how dynamic of a force he can be out of the backfield as a compliment to Carson. At least temporarily, he silenced his doubters and exhibited the talent that made him worthy of a first-round selection, earning a nomination for FedEx Ground Player of the Week.
Carroll has seen the tangible differences in how Penny practices and prepares firsthand, and those changes have now potentially set him up for a strong finish as the Seahawks pursue an NFC West title.
“What he did is he got better, he's trimmer, he's faster. Look how fast he looked today. He looked like he was shot out of a canon. And that's because of the hard work. He got a little bit of fresh legs benefit and he took full advantage of it.”