RENTON, Wash. -- Pete Carroll called it a good problem to have, even if his running backs don't see it that way.
The Seattle Seahawks head coach is just fine with having more than one hot hand at the position -- and he does at that, after rookie Rashaad Penny delivered a long-awaited breakout performance Sunday during the loss at the Los Angeles Rams. Seattle's first-round pick out of San Diego State topped 100 yards and scored his first career touchdown while starter Chris Carson was sidelined.
Carroll expects Carson's sore hip to be sufficiently rested by the time the Seahawks host the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. He'll likely resume the starting role he has held all season. But if nothing else, Penny's performance provides confidence to all involved that he can be more of a factor down the stretch than he had been during a surprisingly quiet first half of his rookie season.
"He looked just like the guy we thought he would look like when we drafted him," Carroll said postgame. "He was excellent."
Penny spelled Mike Davis on Seattle's second possession and ripped off a 38-yard run on his first carry. Two plays later, he took a read-option handoff, made a slick cutback to the right and ran untouched to the end zone for an 18-yard score. He added a 24-yard gain in the third quarter en route to 108 yards on only 12 carries. That led the way for Seattle's season-high 273 rushing yards.
"He was explosive, read the line of scrimmage really well on four or five different runs, saw things really clearly, showed good speed on the edge, a good burst, scored easily, and we haven't seen many of those," Carroll said. "That was really nice. It was just great to see him play football and contribute. This is the guy we've been watching and we saw in camp and all of that, and just haven't had enough good looks up to this point, but he was ready for it. He's been working hard, and we've been pushing him, and it was great to see him come through."
Penny entered Sunday with 146 yards on 42 carries (3.48 average). He hadn't received an offensive snap in two of the previous four games and no more than 16 during that span. That Penny couldn't wrestle away the starting job right off the bat wasn't the surprise, not with how firm of a grip Carson had on it with a strong offseason. But no one would have expected Penny to be third in the pecking order behind Carson and Davis when Seattle chose him 27th overall, making him the second tailback off the board, behind Saquon Barkley.
Penny's start was derailed by a broken finger in August that sidelined him for three preseason games that he could have used to get accustomed to the speed of the NFL and Seattle's blocking scheme. But to hear Carroll describe it, Penny wasn't applying himself the way he needed to. Carroll was asked what he meant with several postgame comments about how Seattle's coaches had been sternly pushing Penny and "challenging him to get right."
"Just to continue to push in all areas, to tax himself in all aspects of it," Carroll said. "Ball has come real easy to him in his career, as he showed [during] such a fantastic senior year and all of that. He just needed to keep working, and that meant the way he practiced and taking advantage of every rep and watching how he eats and how he takes care of himself and how he works in the offseason and the off-field program. Just everything. Just helping him grow. He's got a great attitude about it. He's been wonderful to work with and all that, but we're just showing him the way, and he benefited from it."
Penny offered his take.
"I feel like I've grown up the last two to three weeks," he said.
When asked Monday if Penny has established a role for himself, Carroll's answer suggested that it might not be a significantly expanded role, at least not right away.
"Yeah, but when everybody's healthy, not everybody is going to get the ball a lot," he said. "It's just the way it goes. So we'll figure that out. You'll see how it comes together, but we think Chris is going to be healthy this week. He'll be excited to get back out there too. It's a good group. It's a good problem. It's not a great problem for the running backs, but it's good for us, and we'll try to make the most of it."
Carson had gone over 100 yards three times in a four-game stretch before his hip forced him out of a home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9. He is Seattle's most physical runner, which goes a long way with Carroll. Carson figures to remain the starter this season as long as he's healthy.
But Penny's performance on Sunday, and the progress that led to it, should help his case as he pushes Davis for playing time.
"I felt like today, he needed it so badly," Carroll said postgame. "He knows he's a great player. He just hasn't been able to demonstrate it the way he wants to. He's frustrated by it. We've worked him through it, and I was just hoping that he would get a chance one of these games to get the opportunity to show it. Maybe from this point forward you see him just take off. He looked fantastic today. It's great for us."