SEATTLE, WA - When Chris Carson returns from his latest absence attending to personal matters, he will be the Seahawks starting running back. There's no disputing his standing as the team's primary workhorse after back-to-back 1,100-plus yard seasons starring in the backfield.
But while the fourth-year back has been out of town for the vast majority of training camp thus far, rookie DeeJay Dallas has taken advantage in his first NFL opportunity. The fourth-round pick out of Miami has left a strong initial impression on teammates and coaches both as a runner and receiver while also contributing on special teams.
Among his biggest fans thus far? None other than Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and All-Pro quarterback Russell Wilson, who have already developed an affinity for the versatile, hard-nosed rookie.
"He's a real natural athlete," Carroll said after Seattle's mock scrimmage on Saturday. "He's played quarterback in his background, he's been a receiver, so at the running back spot, he brings some talented background running routes and getting out of the backfield and feeling real comfortable in situations down the field catching and all. He's done a nice job for us to kinda establish himself and you can count on him already."
Originally recruited to Miami as a receiver, Dallas transitioned to the backfield midway through his freshman season. The following season, he led the Hurricanes with over 1,200 all-purpose yards and tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns while serving a reserve role behind Travis Homer, who is now his teammate in Seattle.
Dallas also starred as a return specialist during the 2018 season, particularly on the punt return unit. He returned 11 punts for 191 yards and returned one punt for a score while adding 367 kick return yards.
After opting to declare early for the NFL Draft following a successful junior campaign in which he produced 833 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns, the Seahawks used an early day three pick to snag Dallas. Many viewed the selection as an insurance policy for Rashaad Penny, who continues to rehab from knee reconstructive surgery.
Right away, even without having the chance to work with him on the practice field due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson could tell the rookie running back was programmed differently.
"He's been one of my favorite players, DeeJay Dallas," Wilson smiled. "He's done a tremendous job of coming in with the right attitude, super professional."
Taking initiative to help get rookies up to speed amid unique circumstances, Wilson hosted calls and engaged in group messages with Seattle's 2020 class throughout the spring. Early on, Dallas emerged as one of the leaders of the group, which stood out to the franchise quarterback.
"We have a lot of great rookies," Wilson commented. "But he was one of the guys who really took charge of it all."
After drafting Dallas, Carroll and general manager John Schneider emphasized his talents on special teams as one of the prime reasons he rocketed up the Seahawks draft board. Much like Homer a year before him, the organization also valued his third-down back capabilities as a receiver and pass protector.
Through the first two weeks of camp, Dallas has been even better than anticipated, particularly when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield. On a daily basis, he has shown a knack for creating plays running between the tackles, powering through all the "rookie treatment" veteran defenders can throw at him, as well as racking up yardage after the catch in space and in traffic.
"He's caught the ball extremely well, he runs it well, he's got great vision," Wilson assessed. "He just brings great enthusiasm to the game, so I've been fired up about DeeJay and he's one of my favorite guys on the team as a rookie. He's been special for us."
Carroll agreed, and though carries will be hard to come by with Carson, fellow veteran Carlos Hyde, Homer, and eventually Penny vying for snaps, the rookie hasn't backed down and looks squarely in the mix for the Seahawks third-down role as well as return duties with less than a month until the season opener in Atlanta.
"He's right in it. He's getting involved in special teams, it's going to be a big factor for him. But I'm surprised it's been so clear that he fits in in the throwing game. Not that he hasn't run the ball well - he's done fine there too - but probably ahead of where we would have expected him in the throwing game."