RENTON -- Last December, the Seahawks saw all of their depth at running back disappear seemingly in an instant as Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise were all lost to season-ending injuries over an eight-day span.
This December, it seems as though the position is getting healthy at exactly the right time.
With Penny nearing a return to the active roster after four months on the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks could be at full strength in their backfield for the first time all year.
"He looks terrific," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said of Penny on Thursday. He's looking fast, he's looking explosive, moving really well, running routes really well. I think he looks as good as you could expect him to see. Like, I hadn't seen him for a while. He's been working when it came out, started last week doing different things. This week, I think he's getting close to being ready to go."
The team has yet to have Carson, Penny and Carlos Hyde all active at the same time this year. Penny has been out since tearing his ACL early in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams a year ago. He's in his second week of practicing with the team after having a 21-day practice window opened to get him back on the field from the PUP list.
"I'm super excited for Penny just how hard he's worked his tail off just to get back from the injury that he had and how confident he's looking out there," quarterback Russell Wilson said.
Penny was injured on Sunday, December 8 against the Rams when his knee gave way at the end of his only tough of the game. A week later against the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks lost Carson to a fractured hip and Prosise to a fractured arm. Travis Homer was left as the only running back on the roster until they brought back familiar faces Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin for the end of the season and playoff run.
"Last year was tough because we lost some great players along the way. You lost all your running backs so that was tough," Wilson said.
Added left tackle Duane Brown: "It's just one of the things you don't really prepare for. You can come into the season with so many backs but you're never prepared to lose multiple backs within one game."
Carson and Hyde each have missed stretches of games this season as well. Carson was out four weeks with a mid-foot sprain while Hyde misses three games concurrently due to a hamstring strain. Homer is out now as well due to a knee injury, but the return of Penny to the roster would help offset his absence from the previous few weeks.
"Midpoint of the season, whatever game that was [San Francisco] when we were going out honestly to pregame warm-ups and we weren't quite sure ... what our running back situation would look like. We're in a much different spot. And for me, as the guy that's got to call the plays, it makes it a little bit easier knowing that you're pretty deep there," Schottenheimer said.
Carson and Hyde were missing their first game due to injuries and Homer was limited to just one carry while battling an injury as well. DeeJay Dallas handled all of the rushing duties for the day as the team didn't have a running back readily available on the practice squad to promote given the constraints of COVID-19 protocols.
It further illustrated how important depth is at the position. The team has experienced a squeeze before as injuries forced Seattle to churn through a dozen different rushers in 2016 and just one rushing touchdown from anyone not named Russell Wilson in 2017.
Penny had carried 29 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns and had a receiving touchdown as well in his two games played before the knee injury happened against the Rams. Having him nearing a return for the stretch run could provide a big boost to the group heading into the playoffs with additional depth at the position seemingly solidified. Penny could be activated to play as soon as this weekend with other returnees -- tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Tre Flowers, and defensive end Damontre Moore set to re-join the group in the coming weeks.
"And now we have everyone and it's a blessing at this point of the season to have that many backs, especially considering coming off of last week and how effective our run game was," Brown said. "We'd like to have more of that going forward. So to have everyone available, we're very fortunate and we're looking forward to those guys contributing."
Photo Credit: PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 24: Rashaad Penny #20 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes for a fourth quarter touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 24, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)