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Timely Return Creates Good Opportunity For Rashaad Penny to Rewrite Rocky 2021

After spending three weeks on injured reserve, Rashaad Penny (calf) was back at practice on Thursday. With Chris Carson (neck) and Alex Collins (hip/glute) both ailing, Penny could be the Seahawks' starting running back against the Saints on Monday, giving him an opportunity to alter his career trajectory for the better.

RENTON, WA — Rashaad Penny has run the ball just 13 times in nearly two years since tearing his ACL during a Sunday night game with the Rams in 2019. Two of those carries came in Week 1 of this year's campaign, in a much simpler time for the Seahawks, before he reaggravated a calf injury that had nagged him for much of training camp.

He's been off the field ever since, eventually being placed on injured reserve on October 2. But on Thursday, the former first-round pick returned to practice as a full participant, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is confident he'll see action in the team's Monday night bout with the Saints. 

The Seahawks will have to clear a spot off their 53-man roster to make room for Penny, but they won't have to do so until closer to kickoff. In case he suffers any setbacks, he'll still have two weeks of practice eligibility left before they're forced to activate him. 

Penny's return comes at no better time for a Seattle team hurting at running back. After placing Chris Carson (neck) on injured reserve last week, Alex Collins suffered hip and glute injuries late in the team's 23-20 overtime loss to the Steelers on Sunday night. 

Before that, Collins became the first Seahawks running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game since Carson did it in Week 15 of the 2019 season. Unable to get on the scoreboard through the first half, Carroll demanded a return to the run game and it paid dividends for Seattle's offense. Collins saw eight carries on the team's first 10 plays of the second half, racking up 58 yards and a touchdown to bring the contest within one score.

Currently sitting at an unfavorable 2-4 record, the Seahawks will look to continue emphasizing their rushing attack in two highly important home games against the Saints and Jaguars before heading into the bye week. Still without star quarterback Russell Wilson (finger) until mid-November at the earliest, they want to give backup Geno Smith any and all help he can get, hoping that a viable run game can accomplish just that. It certainly did in Pittsburgh.

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The problem is: Collins, despite Carroll's optimism that he would practice Thursday, was listed as a non-participant on Seattle's injury report. If the fifth-year back is unable to go on Monday, that would leave the team with Penny, DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer to work out of its backfield. 

In that case, Penny would then be in line to start in his first game back. In his weekly radio appearance with host Mike Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle this past Monday, Carroll indicated that Penny would not have any restrictions upon his return. 

"Full speed, ready to roll," Carroll told Salk.

Since entering the NFL in 2018, Penny has never been a high-volume back. His career-high in carries is 15, recorded versus the Vikings a week before his unfortunate knee injury in 2019. In that game, he posted 74 yards on the ground and punched a score across the goal line. He also had a 16-yard touchdown on his only reception of the game. 

Given his first-round status, Penny's career has been under much scrutiny. He's essentially been branded a "bust," and the Seahawks even admitted it themselves by declining his fifth-year option back in May. 

But with Carson out for the foreseeable future and Collins' availability up in the air, Penny has an opportunity to alter his career trajectory for the better. He'll never be able to erase the past three-and-a-half years, but the next few weeks could very well determine his future in the NFL. In a contract year, at a heavily-saturated position that's been further marred by analytics, another tough stretch of games could make it hard for him to find a landing spot in 2022. 

Whether that's in Seattle or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the Seahawks need him now, possibly more than ever. And while they've rarely been able to depend on him, the path for him to change that narrative is clear. It's now or never for Penny.