Rost’s Seahawks training camp takeaways: Penny entering make-or-break season

Jul 30, 2021, 9:22 AM
Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny...
Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny is entering the final year of his rookie deal. (Getty)

The Seahawks have officially kicked off their 2021 training camp and there’s plenty to discuss when it comes to this team.

Clayton: Hawks camp observations – Wilson comfortable in new offense

Here’s what stood out Stacy Rost, co-host f 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy.

A leaner Rashaad Penny enters a make-or-break season

Running back Rashaad Penny is entering a make-or-break season with the Seahawks, and he knows it.

“My biggest thing this offseason was consistency and availability,” Penny told reporters Thursday. “And that’s kind of the same thing I’m going into the season with.”

After shedding some weight this offseason, Penny is feeling lighter and ready to prove himself in a pivotal fourth season – one that will likely determine whether he stays in Seattle.

The Seahawks were drawn to Penny in 2018 thanks to a wildly successful senior season (he led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards for San Diego State and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting), but also for his versatility and durability. Seattle had a promising seventh-round pick in Chris Carson the year prior, but had only seen him in four games. Carson wasn’t the only injured halfback; the team struggled to keep a healthy rotation all season. And here was Penny in the first round: a productive player who, importantly, could stay on the field.

So it’s just Penny’s luck – and Seattle’s – that the former Aztec has struggled with injuries over the course of his career. It started with a broken finger in training camp as a rookie. The break required surgery and was the first time, either in high school or college, that Penny suffered any serious injury playing football. The worst injury though was a torn ACL the following season – not just because of the injury itself, but also because it kept him off the field through most of 2020 as well.

Thanks to that missed time, Penny has only appeared in 13 games since the start of 2019 and has just 823 career yards since 2018. It’s hardly the production you’d expect from a first-round pick, but fans and coaches alike haven’t been able to see a full season of a healthy Penny. It’s why three years after his selection on Day 1 of the draft, one question lingers: What does Penny look like at his best?

He’s making an effort to answer that question in camp.

“He worked out here all throughout the offseason and it really paid off,” Carroll said of Penny Wednesday. “Best he’s looked since we’ve seen him.”

“This is the lightest I’ve ever been,” Penny said of his training. “I feel very explosive. I honestly feel like I’m back in high school again. I feel way faster.”

Penny has looked good in camp so far, though the key for him remains his availability, which won’t be put to the test until the season is underway. If he can stay on the field, the Seahawks could have a shot at realizing the potential they always saw when they added Penny to a running back group including Carson.

“The one-two punch from those guys could be really, really explosive,” Carroll said.

A tough decision at DE is a good thing

Two seasons ago the Seahawks finished with 28 sacks, which was 29th in the league, and had an abysmal pass rush. They ranked 26th or lower in pressures (126), quarterback hits (68), missed tackles (131), and passing yards allowed per game (264). You could hardly believe it by the end of the season. Rewind a couple months back to training camp, and you’d see the offseason was full of hype for two huge additions: edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Ezekiel Ansah.

Instead, it was Rasheem Green who led the team with just four sacks. Ansah appeared in just 11 games, starting only one, and Clowney played through a core injury in the second half of the season that later required surgery.

There’s a bit less hype, though plenty of confidence, in the pass rush this offseason. And for good reason. The Seahawks drastically improved in that sack total in 2020 thanks to offseason additions like safety Jamal Adams, as well as edge rushers Benson Mayowa and Carlos Dunlap. They finished with 46 sacks, seventh most in the league.

We don’t know whether they can replicate that production this year. But we do know that several of those players are returning for another season.

Dunlap and Mayowa are joined by free agent acquisition Kerry Hyder Jr., who racked up 8.5 sacks with San Francisco last season, and Aldon Smith, who had five sacks for Dallas. There are two 2020 draft picks: second rounder Darrell Taylor and fifth rounder Alton Robinson. Taylor could split time at strongside linebacker, but also factors into the pass rush. Fans got their first look at Taylor in a Seahawks uniform this week; the former Tennessee star spent the 2020 regular season on the NFI list. Also competing are Green and 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier.

The best news for Seahawks fans who watched this team struggle in 2019: all of those players are healthy and practicing right now.

Adding to Russell Wilson’s arsenal

The highlight of Thursday’s camp belonged to tight end Gerald Everett, who beat linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven to haul in a touchdown pass in the corner of the endzone during 11-on-11’s and was quickly swarmed by celebrating teammates on offense.

The general assumption has been that Everett, who signed a one-year $6 million contract with Seattle this spring, will be the team’s top tight end target. But it’s at least worth noting that Carroll — who has been high on Everett in interviews this offseason — said the team is still figuring out how targets will be split.

“The tight end spot is really competitive because we don’t know who’s going to take the bulk of the plays,” Carroll told reporters Wednesday. “We really like the position a lot. We’re really fired up about Gerald Everett. We really think he can do a ton. But we’re not sure how to mix those guys yet. We’ve got to find that out as we go through.”

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Rost’s Seahawks training camp takeaways: Penny entering make-or-break season