In Peak Condition, Seahawks RB Rashaad Penny Carrying 'Big Chip On Shoulder' – Sports Illustrated

When NFL training camps open across the league in late July, it's not uncommon to hear from players themselves that they are in the best shape of their life. Whether it is due to an improved diet, a new workout regimen, or a combination of both, everyone seems to report viewing their physical condition in an optimistic lens.
But while such remarks have become cliche over the years, there are instances where players speak the truth and don't dip into the land of hyperbole. Coming off a breakthrough finish to the 2021 season with a new contract in tow, Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny seems to have finally figured everything out, reporting for camp at a lean 237 pounds on Tuesday and wowing coach Pete Carroll in the process.
“Rashaad is in great shape," Carroll told reporters after Wednesday's first practice. "Just cut, sharp, fast, and excited because he had such a great offseason. He looked terrific, he couldn’t wait to get out here and just run. He really wanted to show us that he could go, and he looked just like he did when we finished out at the end, so it was really fun to see.”
When Penny first broke into the league as a first-round pick out of San Diego State, his weight hovered near 240 pounds. But it wasn't necessarily good weight and after battling through soft tissue injuries in a disappointing rookie season, he sought out help from a nutritionist and aimed to take better care of his body.
With his weight fluctuating between 223 and 235 pounds, Penny's injury fortunes didn't improve over the next three seasons. A torn ACL suffered late in his sophomore campaign ultimately limited him to just three games in 2020, putting his future in Seattle in limbo heading into the final year of his rookie contract. After landing on injured reserve with a calf injury early last year, his days with the organization looked to be numbered.
However, after missing 28 games in three-plus seasons with a myriad of injuries, good fortune finally smiled on Penny in the second half. With Chris Carson undergoing neck surgery and Alex Collins dealing with a nagging groin issue, he finally received the chance to be the Seahawks' bell cow and ran with the opportunity, leading the entire NFL with 706 rushing yards in the final six games.
Along the way, playing at north of 230 pounds, Penny eclipsed 130 rushing yards in four of those contests. Averaging nearly seven yards per carry during a scintillating stretch, he ripped off seven runs of 25 or more yards, including a 62-yard touchdown against the Cardinals in the season finale. He wound up tying Colts star Jonathan Taylor for the league lead (eight) in that category on 200-plus fewer carries, displaying the rare package of size and explosiveness that made him a first-round talent.
After signing a one-year, $5.75 million contract to stay with the Seahawks in March, a motivated Penny hasn't become complacent and turned in a fantastic offseason, indicating he switched up his workout program by running in the sand along with doing extensive sled work, which helped strengthen his surgically repaired knee. He's also remained conscious of his diet to aid his mission of staying healthy.
The fruits of that labor could be seen on display at the VMAC on Wednesday as Penny exhibited elite burst and acceleration running through individual drills as well as scrimmage work. Standing out amongst his peers in a talented stable of running backs, it's clearly evident he put in the work this spring with the goal of picking up where he left off back in January.
"I feel like as far as what I did last season, it was no surprise to me because I always knew what I could do," Penny said. "I think the hard part was just me getting to play on Sundays. I think that was really the most difficult thing for me and now that I’m feeling healthy and feeling at my best, I can’t wait to actually take off this year. Having all these guys in the running back room competing, I feel like it’s the same thing as my rookie year. These guys are really hungry to take reps away and I’m hungry to do the same thing but it’s all out of love and competition and that’s really what it’s about.” 
Having watched a fully-healthy Penny run roughshod on opponents and play to his potential down the stretch a year ago, Carroll hasn't seen him skip a beat. After struggling with injuries throughout his first four seasons, the veteran back appears to have found his sweet spot from a conditioning standpoint.
“I want him fast and strong, whatever that weight is," Carroll remarked. "I want him fast and strong, and I think his body makeup, I don’t have all of those numbers yet, but his body makeup is really going to be on the best side that it has been ever. I think this is the best condition that he’s ever been in, and I know that he is going to be flying. His numbers don’t matter, the makeup is really what is important.”
Given his injury history and the physical demands associated with playing running back, the Seahawks will closely monitor Penny's workload this month with eyes towards the regular season. But even after Carson's retirement, with second-round pick Ken Walker III, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer also vying for snaps, Carroll and his staff shouldn't have any issues keeping everyone fresh during camp.
Set to be the clear cut starter for the first time in his career, Penny isn't letting circumstances alter his mindset. With Walker and others set to nip at his heels pushing for playing time of their own, he knows he will have to play at his very best to fend them off and he's embracing the competition at one of the deepest position groups on Seattle's roster.
After silencing his critics by giving them a taste of what he's capable of when healthy, Penny is eager to show his performance wasn't a fluke and that he can stay on the field and maintain an elite level of play for an entire season, which would make a world of difference for a Seahawks offense in transition.
“I have a lot of things to prove to myself. Again, I still have to be healthy. I don’t have any knocks on anything, and I have a big chip on my shoulder this year so I really don’t see anything as far as that but I’m excited about the opportunity and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

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