Rookie RB Travis Homer Playing Special Football for Seahawks
Leading by 10 points with 11 minutes to play, the Seahawks found themselves in a bit of a precarious position trying to hold on for a victory against the Vikings on Monday night.
Only moments earlier, Seattle looked to have the game in the bag after running back Rashaad Penny scored on a 13-yard screen pass, giving the home team a 34-17 advantage. But Minnesota quickly regained momentum as Kirk Cousins found a wide-open Laquon Treadwell for a 58-yard score against broken coverage.
Following an incomplete pass from Russell Wilson to Chris Carson on third down, the Seahawks suddenly faced the prospect of punting the ball back to the Vikings after a quick three-and-out. Momentum had shifted to the visiting sideline and with tons of time left on the clock, the outcome was far from decided.
Criticized for his conservative nature at times this season, coach Pete Carroll decided to roll the dice for once, signing off on a risky fake punt call. If Seattle didn’t pick up the first, Minnesota would have short field and could make it a one possession game in an instant.
Thanks to one of Seattle’s most valuable rookies, Carroll’s gamble paid off.
Lined up as the personal protector five yards off the ball, running back Travis Homer took the snap and bolted to his right. Tight end Jacob Hollister and safety Lano Hill did an excellent job hooking their defenders and leading out in front, springing the speedy rookie for a 29-yard gain and a new set of downs.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Homer reached 20.95 miles per hour on the exhilarating run, the second-fastest tracked ball carrier in the league for Week 13.
After the game, Carroll refused to delve into what led to the unexpected play call, but he absolutely loved the execution.
“The guys did it beautifully, and the timing was exactly right. Great job by Brian Schneider and Larry Izzo to come up with the idea and the thought of it and for the guys to execute. That’s a lot of people involved in getting that done and a lot of communication and all that.”
While Carroll didn’t say it outright, his confidence in Homer certainly played a part in deciding to run the fake. The rising rookie has impressed with his work habits since being drafted back in April and quickly emerged as one of Seattle’s best and most consistent special teams standouts.
Along with serving as Michael Dickson’s personal protector, Homer has also excelled in kick coverage all season and recovered a fumble by C.J. Ham on squib kick with just 25 seconds remaining, sealing a 37-30 prime time victory.
Though Homer only returned one kick in college, Carroll saw the traits necessary to succeed in the role watching him run the football at Miami. With Tyler Lockett battling flu symptoms and coming off a leg injury, Seattle has given the rookie a shot the past two games.
So far, Carroll has been impressed with what he’s seen from him in limited opportunities.
“He is such an attack runner,” Carroll said in regard to Homer, who returned two kickoffs for 51 yards against the Vikings. “It’s a really big factor when you return kickoffs that you get out and get going right away. He’s a burst runner just as you guys saw him. He has a real style about him in that regard.”
Starring for the Hurricanes, Homer rushed for over 1,900 yards and 12 touchdowns during his sophomore and junior seasons, opting to declare early for the NFL Draft. While the Seahawks loved his running style, general manager John Schneider lauded him for his special teams savvy and third down skills after drafting him in the sixth round.
“He’s a grit guy for us, hell of a special teams player. He can play on third down. We actually had him in the third down category because he had such good hands coming out of the backfield. Really good instincts. Just really, really tough.”
Behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny on the depth chart, Homer hasn’t yet seen the field for his first NFL snap on offense. But if he continues to make splashy plays on special teams as he did on Monday night, his opportunity will come sooner rather than later, especially after showing off his excellent speed on the fake punt.
For now, Carroll plans to keep using the distinguished rookie as much as he can in the third phase of the game and from the sounds of it, he’s earned more chances as a kick returner moving forward.
“He’s a guy that we have trusted so much. He’s the personal protector for the punt team as a rookie because he’s so diligent about his work and it means so much to him. We just figured that he would have the right make up to do a good, solid job back there. He’s been really sharp, really consistent the first few shots he’s had.”