The annoyance of haphazard play in the first two weeks of fake games vanished quickly Saturday night at the Loo when the Seahawks went up 14-0 in the first quarter en route to a 27-0 dope-slap (box) of the Los Angeles Chargers. The deed was done without Russell Wilson and eight other starters, who were held out of harm’s way.
More noteworthy was the emergence of a catchy nickname.
As RB Alex Collins figuratively broke the ankles of an increasing number of Chargers defenders, his teammates on the sidelines howled.
“I know my teammates get fired up,” he said. “They yell, ‘Sweet Feet! Sweet Feet!”
Collins, 27, deployed his agile swerves to lead the Seahawks in rushing (37 yards, 10 attempts) and receiving (seven for 52 yards), that not only gave Seattle its lone preseason win after two dreary losses, it helped add to the drama of cutting the roster, which must go from 80 to 53 (plus a 16-man practice squad) by 1 p.m. Tuesday.
There’s no danger of Sweet Feet being cut, not the way he looked Saturday. But the breakout did make a case for him being the best contributor among the backs behind starter Chris Carson, who, like Wilson, was held out of preseason games.
“His feet are remarkable,” said coach Pete Carroll. “He’s very explosive. You see too, that he’s an experienced player. He knows when we get in some situations, he finds his way to navigate to the positive. He’s been doing it his whole life.”
Carroll mentioned two unusual things in Collins’ background. The former Arkansas star was one of three players, including Georgia’s Herschel Walker, in the Southeastern Conference to rush for 1,000 yards in each of the first three seasons. The other freakiness is that part of his training routine includes Irish dancing, which Collins asserts is integral in his ability change direction so quickly.
Said Carroll: “We all know that whatever that dancing that he does, he’s got some unbelievable moves.”
This is Collins’ second go-round with the Seahawks, who took him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He was cut after his rookie year and spent two seasons in Baltimore where he had 22 starts and 1,374 yards. He returned to Seattle last year for four games. Carroll claims he’s a changed dude.
“His body sculpture is different,” he said. “The way he’s conditioned and shaped himself is much different than he was. He was trying to be big (before); he thought he needed to be big to be in the league. At least that’s what it looked like. He’s turned it around.”
He’s also become a better receiver, catching all seven targets Saturday from QBs Geno Smith and Sean Mannion.
“The more things you can do, the better it is for us when we put a guy in the game,” Carroll said. “If a guy can only block, or he can only run, or he can only catch, then you get taken advantage of. ”
The roster intrigue enters because Collins seems to have outplayed Rashaad Penny, the former No. 1 pick who is in his contract year. Saturday, Penny had 24 yards in seven carries, plus a short catch. Salary cap logic says Penny would be too expensive to cut, not to mention the shot to the franchise ego to bust again on a top pick. But a trade might be a consideration in order to salvage some dignity.
In addition, the Seahawks also like holdover third-down backs DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer, partly because of their versatility on special teams that recently lost to injury for the season LB Ben Burr-Kervin. Neither played Saturday as they recover from minor injuries.
That’s five capable running backs. The Seahawks roster usually carries four, plus a fullback. But the fullback, Nick Bellore, suddenly has found a himself as a starting linebacker next to Bobby Wagner and second-year man Darrell Taylor, in addition to a reduced portion of his special-teams duties.
Will Bellore’s transition to defense allow Carroll to carry five backs? He wouldn’t commit to anything Saturday, except to note Bellore led the team with six tackles.
“Nick’s amazed me,” he said. “He’s had such a great surge in his career since he’s been with us. All of the best stuff that he’s ever done, it seems to me, has come out in the last couple of years — he’s in the freaking Pro Bowl. It kind of doesn’t surprise you that he did something again.
“We forgot about his linebacker play. We knew he played there, but we really didn’t give him a chance. We always were playing him on the other side of the ball.”
If Bellore returns to offense only a few times, it’s possible each of the remaining backs may find niche contributions in the revamped offense under new coordinator Shane Waldron. Saturday provided the first game glimpses of the changes: Lots of two tight end formations and I formations, jet sweeps with running backs as well as receivers, lots of short, clock-controlling passes. The Seahawks had two scoring drives of 16 and 14 plays, and didn’t complete a pass all night longer than 19 yards.
All of this behind a line that was absent two veteran starters, LT Duane Brown and RG Gabe Jackson. The center, Kyle Fuller, won the job almost by default over injured incumbent Ethan Pocic.
Collins joined many of his teammates in marveling at the diversity.
“Shane has come in and put together a great system,” Collins said. “Everybody’s on the same page from going through practice. You can see great things to expect from the offense this season. This game was a great example of that.
All of the guys were working together. Thinking about the ones with Russ (Wilson) getting out there, adding to that flair with DK (Metcalf) coming out, bringing that dynamic to the offense, will really open everything up and show what we’re capable of. I love it.”
Throw in some Sweet Feet, and high stepping is on the dance card.