'It's a setback': Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny suffers left ankle injury in loss

NEW ORLEANS -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said running back Rashaad Penny "seriously" injured his left ankle Sunday and will have a hard time returning this season.

"I don't want to make any statements because I don't really know exactly yet until they get all the MRIs and stuff, but he's got a bad ankle [injury]," Carroll said. "He's in trouble getting back."

Penny, who broke out late last season after an injury-filled start to his career, went down at the end of a carry in the third quarter of the Seahawks' 39-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. He hobbled to the Seahawks' bench with assistance from someone on either side of him, unable to put weight on his left leg. Before he was carted into the locker room, Penny was hanging his head while being tended to by the team doctor and head athletic trainer.

"He's crushed," Carroll said.

Penny carried eight times for 54 yards Sunday before his injury. After he went down, rookie second-round Ken Walker broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run that briefly gave Seattle a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Penny's latest injury comes after his emergence as one of the NFL's most productive running backs. He led the league with 671 rushing yards over the final five games of last season, which was 208 more than anyone else in that span. After a quiet start to 2022, he exploded for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries last week in a performance that was reminiscent of his late-season surge.

Before that breakout, Penny's career had been marred by a long list of injuries. The 27th overall pick in 2018, he missed 30 of a possible 69 games (including playoffs) due to injury over his first three seasons. That included a torn ACL on 2019 that sidelined him for much of 2021.

Penny has talked openly about how much his injuries have weighed on him, saying recently that he returned to Seattle this offseason in part because he felt he owed it to the Seahawks given all the time he had missed. The Seahawks brought Penny back on a one-year, $5.75 million deal that included more than $5 million in guarantees.

"This has been a journey for him, and for us too," Carroll said. "We just fell in love with the fact that he emerged and showed us the great player that he is and what he can mean to the game and to our team and all that ... He'll be back, he'll be back. But it's a setback that just breaks my heart because he's just been having so much fun and he's been so rewarded and so fulfilled in that he knows he belongs and he knows he can do it and he knows he can be an impact [player] in this league. So to lose that chance, it's similar to kind of when Jamal [Adams] goes out. Those guys, they put so much into it and they care so much about it and then to have it taken away because of a mishap, it's unfortunate. So we're going to love him through it."

With Travis Homer on injured reserve (ribs) for at least two more games and Penny now out, the Seahawks are down to Walker and DeeJay Dallas at running back, so they'll have to make an addition there. And they'll have to turn to Walker to lead the way.

With Penny's long injury history and starter Chris Carson's retiring this offseason due to a neck injury, they reinforced their backfield by drafting Walker with the 41st overall pick. He missed the opener while recovering from a mid-August hernia procedure and rushed for 58 yards on 15 attempts over his first three games. Two more would-be carries were ruined when Walker went the wrong way to take the handoff.

"I'm ready," he said. "We practice it every day. I feel real comfortable with the offense. I've got older running backs in there to teach me everything I need to know, so I feel real comfortable in the scheme."

Walker finished Sunday with 88 yards on eight carries.

After seeing what the rookie was capable of in this game, Carroll said he thinks Walker is ready for the next step.

"He's ready to roll," Carroll said. "He'll have more to learn and there's a lot more coming at him. But he certainly showed everybody the explosion that he has and the potential that's there. He's a fantastic young man coming up, so this is his time."

Defensive tackle Al Woods (knee) and receiver Penny Hart (hamstring) were unable to finish the game due to injuries. The only update Carroll had on either was that Woods' knee "flared up."