Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll Reveals Biggest 'Surprise' of Ken Walker III – Sports Illustrated

The Seattle Seahawks used a top-50 draft pick on Michigan State running back Ken Walker III, but by all accounts, didn't necessarily know exactly what they were getting in some facets.
Walker turned in a stellar final collegiate season, running for over 1,600 yards and averaging more than six yards per carry. However, the sixth-place Heisman Trophy finisher caught just 13 passes, bringing his three-year career total to 19.
Further, Walker struggled as a pass blocker, earning just a 41.3 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Thus, there were question marks surrounding Walker's ability to stay on the field on third down, but he's off to a promising start in the eyes of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
“You asked about surprises,” Carroll said about Walker, referring back to a previous question about another player. “I’m surprised he’s so well-rounded. A runner, he’s blocking; I think I mentioned it the other day, but his pass-protection stuff, he just turned the page. I mean he was not very good in college as a pass protector, and we didn’t know."
The secret to Walker's growth? Hard work from the jump. Immediately after Seattle drafted him No. 41 overall, Walker and Seahawks running back's coach Chad Morton attacked the intricacies of pass blocking. According to Carroll, Walker's desire to improve is simply an outward reflection of the way he's wired.
“He just wasn’t ready for the times that he had (been asked to block before),” Carroll said. “He took it very seriously. He’s just not going to let a weakness be there if he can do something about it."
Carroll isn't Seattle's only coach who's recognized the strides Walker's made from draft day to the preseason opener. Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron believes Walker's right where he needs to be mentally and will only get better with experience.
“I think he’s doing great," Waldron claimed. "I think that’s something he’s going to keep building as we go. As far as (the) mental side, he gets it. He picked it right up, did a good job in the offseason in learning the system. I feel confident in him and his ability, he’ll be great.”
Walker saw just 66 snaps in pass protection during his final season in college, an average of 5.5 per game. Considering his lack of pure experience as both as a blocker and pass catcher, the Seahawks made something of a projection on Walker's third-down skill set.
The age-old saying of "pass protection isn't passive" is a positive for Walker, as his physical, angry running style translates well. Per Carroll, learning how to go about channeling those traits into on-field performance is the biggest challenge, but one that Walker was more than fine with taking on.
"Pass protection is something guys have to realize what it takes to do it," said Carroll. "They totally have the ability. It’s not like a guy can’t pass protect. Everybody can, because it’s just about effort and technique and all of that. Some guys may fight it, but he didn’t. He championed the cause.”
Premium-round draft picks are expected to be impact players, and Walker is no different. Though the 5-9, 211-pounder arrived in Seattle an unfinished product, his intangible traits have allowed him to refine his skill set sooner rather than later.
“I think for this kid, everything is important," Carroll remarked. "He wants to be great, and he’s not going to let any stone be unturned. So, I’m really excited to see how he goes. He’s going to get some good playing time in this game and get him comfortable with the speed of the game and all of that."
Walker has exceeded Carroll's initial expectations with how diverse his skill set is. Poised to see plenty of snaps in the preseason opener with Rashaad Penny out due to injury, Carroll has another baseline expectation for Seattle's highly touted running back.
"I expect him to do well,” said Carroll.
Seattle kicks off the preseason at 4 PM Pacific on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers.


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