RENTON — With just over two weeks until the Seahawks play their first regular season game, here's what we know about the running back position — Chris Carson will be the starter and proverbial bell cow, with a role befitting the two-year, $10.4 million contract he signed last March.
Carson has yet to play in the preseason, like most of the team's regulars, and may see only a cameo appearance in the final preseason game Saturday night against the Chargers.
But some close to the team feel he may benefit as much as anyone from the changes to the offense being implemented by first-year coordinator Shane Waldron, specifically those making greater use of his receiving ability (Carson, whenever asked, insists he has the best hands on the team).
Here's what we don't know about Seattle's running back position — almost everything else.
Can Rashaad Penny be depended on or will it be Alex Collins who becomes the de facto No. 2 behind Carson?
Can DeeJay Dallas be the third-down back or will the now-healthy Travis Homer take that role?
And will the Seahawks be able to — or want to — keep all five on the initial 53-player roster?
To be fair, it's hard to read much into what we've seen so far of Seattle's offense when only one potential starting offensive lineman has played substantially — center Kyle Fuller, who is in a battle with Ethan Pocic for the job — and three projected starting offensive linemen have not played at all.
So, not much should probably be made of the team's rushing stats so far.
Still, the Seahawks gave Penny, their first-round pick in 2018, some substantial work early in last Saturday's desultory 30-3 loss to the Broncos, and the results at first glance weren't too inspiring.
In 15 snaps, Penny got five carries good for 8 yards. He had three carries for 5 yards on the first five plays of the game (one of which was negated by penalty) going against a Denver defense that included nine of the Broncos' listed 11 starters, while playing behind what was mostly a backup Seattle offensive line.
Coach Pete Carroll said later all that really mattered with Penny was that he got some work in after playing just three games last season following an ACL injury in December 2019 and then having another cleanup surgery this offseason.
"We just wanted to give him a chance to get out on the field and play," Carroll said.
Collins played 18 snaps and had 20 yards on seven carries. But all of his carries came after Denver substituted out its regular defense. He has 21 yards on nine carries for the preseason.
Carroll said the Seahawks were "just trying to balance it out" between Penny and Collins.
Carroll said this week Penny made it through the game fine and will be expected to play a lot Saturday against the Chargers. And that makes one wonder if the Seahawks merely want to get Penny more work to get ready for the season or if they want to see him show something as they sort out roles. Penny wouldn't seem in danger of making the roster as he has a dead salary cap hit of $2.05 million with savings of $1.3 million if he were released.
Collins, meanwhile, has a nonguaranteed contract for $990,000 this year.
Dallas was the star of the loss to the Broncos from a special teams standpoint with two good kickoff returns and a partially blocked punt.
But he only played 12 snaps on offense, 10 of which were pass plays, and didn't have a carry.
It's probably risky to read much into anything in the preseason. But Dallas' usage seems to indicate the team sees him mostly in the third-down/two-minute role, which makes sense given his college history as a receiver for some of his time at Miami.
But, while Pro Football Focus numbers may not be everything, their grades for his pass blocking Saturday were not good — a 6.9 on a scale of 0-100. Pass blocking was also perceived as an issue for Dallas last season.
The wild card now is Homer, a third-year player out of Miami who came off the PUP list Tuesday after dealing with a calf injury.
Homer played just nine games last season and may be easy to portray as the odd man out.
But Carroll gave an intriguingly effusive answer when asked about Homer Tuesday, pointing specifically to how his skill set fits the third-down back role — and with the way the Seahawks may want to use their backs in the passing game, his value could be higher in this offense.
"I'm really excited about him coming back," Carroll said. "He's different than the other guys. He runs different; he has his own style. ... I'm anxious to see if we can get him back here and he can feel comfortable and get him through the week and see where he fits. We know he can contribute to our team. We know he's a good football player. We love his toughness and all the versatility he brings. He's a really good pass protector as well. He's got a lot of positives."
Given that the Seahawks typically keep four running backs on their initial 53-man roster, the assumption has been one of Collins/Dallas/Homer would have to go, with Penny seeming a lock along with Carson.
And while some might view that as a Dallas/Homer question given the pedigrees of Penny and Collins, both are good special teams players able to help out in a number of different areas, something that would not be asked of the other three (Collins has just 28 snaps in his four-year NFL career).
But here's a recent development that could alter Seattle's thinking — Nick Bellore's use as a linebacker with the recent injury to Ben Burr-Kirven.
Bellore has made the roster as a fullback the last two years, giving Seattle five total running backs. Bellore at this point appears to be a linebacker first. He's only played 64 offensive snaps in two years and it's unclear how big of a role a fullback will have in Waldron's offense anyway.
So, considering Bellore as a linebacker could make it easier to slide in all five running backs, especially with two — Homer and Dallas — needed to fill out a special teams corps that just lost one of its best performers in Burr-Kirven.
Lots of intrigue, indeed.