RENTON — Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny already has logged one year in the NFL. Now he’s looking forward to his first season as a true pro.
The little things that separate the elite from the average eluded him last year. The extra reps, the body management, the attention to those around him — all short of the new standard the former first-round draft pick has set for himself.
Penny was effective most of the time he was used last year, gaining 419 yards on 85 rushes — good for 4.9 yards per carry. He picked up 108 yards on 12 carries vs. the Rams in November and 65 yards on seven carries vs. the 49ers in December. However, there also was a finger injury that slowed him early in the season, a knee injury that sidelined him late and a learning curve that can get the best of any rookie.
Being fast has never been an issue for Penny. Now he’s up to speed as well.
“I’m just trying to learn the dynamics of being more of a pro,” Penny said. “It’s in the details. Coming in early. Getting treatment when my body is sore. Doing all the little things. Focusing on other positions, techniques and what they do besides just knowing mine.”
It doesn’t hurt that Penny has a mentor in Hall of Fame running back and fellow San Diego State product Marshall Faulk. Faulk and Penny have been communicating every Monday and Wednesday since January, sifting through the playbook , watching film via FaceTime — basically doing anything necessary to elevate Rashaad’s game.
That part about focusing on other positions and what they do? Penny said that came from Faulk, who always was aware of what his offensive line and receiving corps were doing on the field.
But it’s not just between-the-lines growth that Penny is focusing on. It’s between-the-ears discipline, too.
The 23-year-old has been working with a nutritionist throughout the offseason to get down to 230 pounds. He didn’t say how much weight he actually lost, but he did say this is the best he has ever felt.
Perhaps the bigger obstacle, though, has been learning to be patient while dealing with injury.
Penny broke a finger that required surgery in August, which caused him to miss the last three preseason games. And whether it was due to pain, rust or a combination of both, he struggled upon his return, gaining just 43 yards on 20 carries over the first three games of the regular season.
That was new to him. A year earlier, he had finished tops in the nation with 2,248 rushing yards, 618 more than Faulk ever accumulated in a season at SDSU.
But now defenses were swallowing him up — and that wasn’t easy to swallow.
“I’d never been hurt playing football in my life. When that happened, I just hit a wall,” Penny said. “I’m glad that I’ve grown up. Over these past months and this offseason, I’ve just started taking everything seriously.”
When, precisely, Penny pressed the “grow up” button is uncertain. But he pressed the “bounce back” button in Week 4, when he rushed for 49 yards on nine attempts in a win over Arizona. In fact, after those three underwhelming games to start the season, Penny gained 5.8 yards per carry for the rest of the year.
Of course, after gaining 1,147 yards last season, Chris Carson is expected to be the primary ball-carrier for the Seahawks in 2019. But if Penny improves upon his first year, there is little reason to think Seattle can’t lead the NFL in rushing again.
The bulk of the offensive line is back. The run-first mentality is still in place. The Super Bowl-winning strategy is now a staple of “Seahawks football.”
On Thursday, Penny acknowledged Carson’s dynamic talent. He added that he’s been picking up “little details” from his fellow RB and is trying to be his “best friend.”
There may be a little competition in the backfield, but there isn’t any jealousy on Penny’s end. Remember, he’s a true pro.