RENTON — Things a good running back should read: 1) The playbook, 2) scouting reports, 3) the defense.
Things a good running back shouldn’t read: Mean tweets.
Rashaad Penny has seemed to figure this out as he enters his fifth season with the Seahawks. The 26-year-old said he doesn’t concern himself with social media the way he did when he was younger. Gone are the days when he would scroll through his mentions to see what randos — presumably ones with cats or cartoons as their avatars — would say about him. But hearing him talk Wednesday, it was clear that those moments are in his past.
On the first day of training camp, Penny fielded a series of questions ranging from the career-ending injury of former Seahawks running back Chris Carson, to the vulnerability of the running-back position, to his expectations for the season. About three minutes in, however, there came a question about Penny’s mitigated social media use.
As you progress in your career are you on social media less?
“Yeah, as I get older, I don’t really care about it no more,” Penny said. “I feel that people’s words really don’t hurt as much as they used to.”
The words generally centered on Penny being “injury prone,” something the 28 missed games in his 65-game career would attest to. But the former first-round pick emphasized Wednesday, without a prompt, really, that such a label was a misnomer. The games he missed in 2021, Penny insisted, were due to strains one would expect after a serious knee surgery.
“You can’t argue with them (online trolls) about who they think I am.”
Plus, these days — who is going to argue with this success?
Penny finally lived up to his first-round billing in the final part of last season, when he averaged 134.2 rushing yards over his last five games. He posted 360 yards on the ground in his final two contests, and ended up leading the NFL at 6.3 yards per carry.
The burst earned him a one-year, $5.75 million extension with the Seahawks that temporarily muzzled his critics. But please excuse him if he wasn’t in the most celebratory of moods Wednesday.
One day earlier, Carson, the man Penny considered his best friend, was forced to permanently step away from football due to a neck injury. This wasn’t a total surprise, but the announcement left Penny “heartbroken.”
It also, however, seemed to solidify Penny’s role as Seattle’s No. 1 option at running back. Well, at least it did some people’s minds — not so much Rashaad’s.
“Man, I don’t think like that. I got a lot of stuff to prove to myself. I mean, again, I still got to be healthy,” Penny said. “I got a big chip on my shoulder this year. So I really don’t see anything as far as that (being the No. 1 option). I’m excited about the opportunity, and you know, we’ll see where it goes from there.”
It would seem unwise for Penny to make any overly bold declarations given his injury history. Dynamic as he has been when healthy, he has had just one season in which he played more than 10 games. But his talent is impossible to deny. If he had one or two show-stopping games at the tail end of last season, it would be one thing, but he had performances of 137 yards, 135 yards, 170 yards and 190 yards among those final five weeks.
Penny said the production didn’t surprise him. He always knew what he was capable of. And though he won’t say it out loud, the heartbreak of Carson’s departure could lead to a breakout for Penny.
Of course, pushing Penny the way he pushed Carson is rookie running back Kenneth Walker III, whom Seattle selected in the second round last spring with the 41st overall pick. And after winning the Doak Walker Award as college football’s top running back last year, it’s a reasonable hypothesis to think Walker could challenge Penny for major reps.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll offered little insight as to what he expects from Penny this season, giving the tried-and-true “we’re just gonna get through one day at a time” response while praising Walker’s ability. But let’s be real: There’s potential for big things from Penny. Real big things.
Rashaad reiterated later in his news conference that he doesn’t care about his critics. Some might say he doth protest too much, but he seems sincere.
“I’m happy where I’m at now and this year is going to be a big one,” Penny said.
Likely so — a year that gives his critics more ammo, or one that silences them for a real long time.