RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing over the past three games with 473 yards, their most in any such span since 2016. They've had a runner hit triple digits in all three, something that hadn't previously happened in their backfield since Marshawn Lynch did it at the end of the 2012 season.
The long-awaited rediscovery of their run game allowed the Seahawks (2-3) to win two straight after an 0-2 start. Then they nearly upset the unbeaten Los Angeles Rams last week with 190 yards on the ground, which led right guard D.J. Fluker to boast afterward that Seattle "literally kicked their ass up front."
As coach Pete Carroll put it Wednesday, "This is what we've been seeking."
And yet Rashaad Penny has hardly been involved.
That wouldn't be all that notable if not for the fact that Penny is the Seahawks' first-round pick, a player who was expected to at least split carries with running back Chris Carson even if he couldn't beat him out for the starting job. Instead, he's apparently the third option in their running back rotation.
The Seahawks went with Mike Davis as the starter two weeks ago in Arizona when Carson was a late scratch. Then Penny didn't play a single offensive snap Sunday against the Rams and got only one on special teams. His rushing totals through five games: 29 carries for 92 yards compared to 64/293 for Carson and 36/172 for Davis.
"He's just looking for his opportunity," Carroll said of Penny. "He's dying to get in there. He's just scratching, clawing to get back out there and get more turns. There just wasn't enough [opportunities], but this is a long season, there's a lot of carries, there's a lot of running to be done. I can't wait to see him get in there and get going too."
That Penny has been a nonfactor in Seattle's offense has invited criticism over the team's decision to make him the 27th overall pick in April. The move was questioned at the time by those who felt Seattle would have been better off taking care of a position of greater need -- cornerback or defensive end, for instance -- that early in the draft.
But in revisiting that decision, a few things are worth considering:
The Seahawks felt as if they had to draft a running back given the rash of injuries that had led them to start nine different players at that position over the previous three seasons. Carson's broken leg was part of that trend. Plus, Carson missed five games over his two years at Oklahoma State because of injury. So even though his recovery was coming along well, the Seahawks couldn't trust that he'd make it through a full season healthy. Penny, meanwhile, had played in all 54 possible games at San Diego State.
They didn't have a second-round pick. The Seahawks were also without a third-rounder until they recouped one when they traded down in the first round, from No. 18 to 27. They figured that if they passed on Penny at 27, he'd be long gone by the time they made their next pick in the middle of the third round. General manager John Schneider said one unnamed team called the Seahawks and actually tried to trade for Penny right after Seattle took him, so that calculation was probably correct.
There were no great cornerback options in the first round. That was one of the Seahawks' biggest needs heading into the draft following Richard Sherman's release and several other departures at the position. But they weren't left with many viable choices once Minkah Fitzpatrick went 11th overall to Miami. Jaire Alexander didn't have anywhere close to the size they prefer at cornerback, Mike Hughes wasn't a consideration because of his off-the-field issues in college, and Seattle didn't view Josh Jackson -- who ended up going in the second round -- as worthy of being taken in the first.
The draft was thin on edge rushers, another need for Seattle. That might help explain why the New Orleans Saints made the bold move of jumping up 13 spots to take Marcus Davenport at 14. The Seahawks didn't have the draft ammo to pull off something like that. So they decided to wait until the third round to address that spot -- with Rasheem Green -- and went with Penny in the first.
For all the durability that Penny showed in college, he broke his finger during a pass-blocking drill in training camp and had to miss the final three preseason games. Carroll described Penny as "rusty" when he made his return from that injury in Seattle's regular-season opener.
"It certainly did [set Penny back]," Carroll said Tuesday. "In your rookie camp, you don't want to miss a month. That's pretty hard. It just did, but he's back now. He's worked really hard in the last few weeks, the last three weeks, to make sure that he wouldn't just arrive, but he's there in shape, ready to go and ready for the opportunity to come. He's taking a good step forward."
Carroll made some waves when he said early in training camp, while raving about the speed Penny had shown on a breakaway run, that he had recently weighed in at 236 pounds. That would have represented a 16-pound increase from what Penny was reported to have weighed at the scouting combine. But Penny refuted that he ever got that heavy and said his listed weight at the combine was wrong. He said he's at his ideal weight of 226.
Penny struck a team-first tone when asked about his minimal role so far, saying it's not the first time he has taken a back seat in the backfield. He spent his first three seasons behind Donnel Pumphrey at San Diego State before taking over as the full-time starter his senior year.
"When you've got two backs that's rolling and are hot," he said, "all you can do is just support them and wait for your opportunity."
That will figure to come at some point. If nothing else, Seattle's recent injury history suggests as much.
"He's handling it but he's frustrated and that's exactly what I want," Carroll said. "I want him to be frustrated, I want him to be anxious to get out there, I want him to be unsatisfied with what's going on right now. That's fine. I think that's the only way he should be. He's classy and he's for the team and every time he would say anything, he would always talk about the team first so he's got his priorities in line and I expect him to keep battling."