RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III was answering questions at the podium after an OTA practice earlier this month when Chad Morton, his position coach and the most vociferous instigator on Pete Carroll’s staff, chimed in from a few feet away.
“They stole that Rookie of the Year!” Morton shouted. “It should have been you!”
Morton, of course, was referring to how voters picked New York Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson as the 2022 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, despite Walker outproducing him by five touchdowns and more than 100 scrimmage yards.
Hardware or not, no offensive skill player was more productive last season than Walker, which made it a surprise when Seattle spent the 52nd overall pick on UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet to be their RB2.
It was a virtual certainty that the Seahawks would draft at least one running back. Rashaad Penny and Travis Homer had just left in free agency, which meant their backfield was down to Walker and DeeJay Dallas, who’s entering the last year of his rookie deal. But the second round, where Seattle drafted Walker a year ago, was earlier than generally expected.
It raised eyebrows, and the obvious question of how Seattle plans to divvy up the workload. Walker is still the clear-cut RB1, but it’s hard to imagine that the Seahawks drafted Charbonnet as early as they did to only give him the ball five or six times a game.
Charbonnet (6-foot-0, 214) has shown the soft hands to be a factor in the passing game, but he’s also looked plenty comfortable running in between the tackles, albeit in the non-contact setting of spring practices.
“You get that true pro feel from the guy right away,” offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said. “He’s really serious about his business, and then you notice his size and speed at running back. I know you can’t tell a whole lot about what’s going to happen when the pads go on when we’re out here right now, but you do get the feel where he’s playing at a high tempo. He’s a big back, he’s got a toughness about him, and he’s really gathering all of the information and picking up the offense quickly.”
Neither Waldron nor Carroll have given any indication of what the division of labor will look like in Seattle’s backfield; they may not even know until the pads come on in training camp. But both have made intriguing comments about the running backs’ potential to contribute as pass-catchers.
The Seahawks have never heavily featured their running backs in the passing game under any of the four offensive coordinators Carroll has employed in Seattle. In the last five seasons, they’ve ranked between 20th and 32nd in targets to running backs. But they perhaps have never had a backfield with as many adept pass-catchers as this one.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, seventh-round pick Kenny McIntosh was one of only two players in FBS last year with 500 rushing and 500 receiving yards. His 504 receiving yards at Georgia were third-most among running backs in FBS. He had 43 receptions last season while Charbonnet had 37. Both could be mistaken for wide receivers with now smooth they look catching the ball.
“Yeah, they’re catchers, for sure,” Carroll said. “Kenny is a really natural athlete, you can just see it in everything that he does. Zach does everything well. He just is a complete ballplayer. He’s already shown his understanding and his instincts about blocking in the passing game — not the physical side of it, but his assignments and his footwork and stuff like that. We’ve just got to throw them out there and start handing the ball to them, see what happens and see who produces and all.
“I know [Walker] has been really impressed with those guys too, and for a guy to say stuff about his young teammates like that — he’s come out and been outspoken about it — that’s a statement. So they look really good.”
Walker rushed for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns on 228 carries last season, tops among rookies in all three categories. After catching only 13 passes in 2021 at Michigan State, he finished with 27 catches for 165 yards.
That gave him 1,215 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns on 255 touches in 15 games (he missed the opener following hernia surgery and one game in December with a foot injury).
Wilson’s stat line: 1,107 yards, four touchdowns on 87 touches in 17 games.
Which is why Walker thought he was going to be named OROY up until the moment that Wilson was announced the winner. He actually received one more first-place vote than Wilson, but the Jets receiver got more than twice as many second-place votes. Walker called Wilson a “great player” while admitting to being “kinda frustrated” by the snub.
“But you know, it happens,” Walker said. “I can’t make those decisions. I’ve just got to come out here and do my best and get better.”
While raving about Walker’s offseason, Carroll gave an unprompted mention of the work he put in on his pass-catching.
“He’s worked so hard with the receivers,” Carroll said. “He’s worked full-speed day after day after day. His confidence, his explosiveness, his quickness, his ability to run the routes and catch the ball, he’s doing everything. He’s catching punts. He’s catching kickoffs. He’s doing everything he can possibly do, and he’s having a blast. His attitude and spirit is just such a great compliment too, coming off the season that he had.
“I’m glad we’ve got a lot of guys at that spot. We’re not going to overuse him in the early part of preseason … but he’s ready to go. He’s had as good of an offseason as you could have, really.”
#Seahawks #split #carries #stacked #backfield #ESPN #Seattle #Seahawks #Blog