In addition to rushing for 671 yards over the Seahawks’ final five games, most in the NFL in that span, RB Rashaad Penny struck a blow against sports-language abuse.
He gashed the credibility of the phrase, “injury prone.”
One of the most over-used terms in sports, it implies a vulnerability that is non-existent, unless an athlete has a condition such as lactose intolerance, which might increase the chances for bone breakage.
But sports fans, and most of their predecessor hominids, have to have an explanation for everything. Randomness is just too incomprehensible.
The human mind and spirit must be able to identify, sort, categorize, compare, contrast and label, in order to render judgments regarding safety and security.
You may know it as a fantasy football draft.
Once applied, “injury prone” sticks to an athlete like a hook in a salmon.
“I’ve been called injury prone,” he said Monday after a 190-yard rushing game Sunday that was the seventh-highest total in club history. “I’ve only had one significant injury (ACL tear, December 2019). The small things, I feel, come as being a football player. You see guys who have strains — that’s just part of the game. I felt like it was going to be mixed like that all along the way.”
Yet one of the reasons the Seahawks were willing to reap a whirlwind of criticism in the 2018 draft by using their first-round pick on Penny (Nick Chubb went in the second round) was because of his reputation for durability. In four years at San Diego State, he played 51 games, averaged 7.8 yards a carry and won the NCAA rushing title his senior year with 2,248 yards. Never was hurt.
But then, professional football life happened.
|Dec 10, 2018||NFL||Knee strain grade 1||Missed two games|
|Sep 20, 2019||NFL||Thigh hamstring strain grade 2||Injured hamstring during practice ahead of Week 3. Missed two games. Listed as inactive Week 6 with same injury|
|Dec 8, 2019||NFL||Knee ACL tear grade 3||Tore ACL vs. Rams. Out for rest of 2019 season; in 2020, played 3 games (11 carries)|
|Jan 8, 2021||NFL||Knee strain grade 1||Missed wild card vs. Rams|
|Sep 12, 2021||NFL||Leg calf strain||Two carries in Week 1 game at Indianapolis, returned Week 7|
Patience and diligence by player and club paid off — in the final month of his four-year rookie contract (the club declined its fifth-year option).
In the past five games, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry, scored six touchdowns and had eight runs of 25 or more yards. The latter tied for the league lead with Jonathan Taylor of Indianapolis, a Pro Bowl selection and the NFL’s leading rusher. But it took Taylor 332 carries. Penny had 119.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt,” he said. “I feel like I’m really back in college again. I’m way past the injuries. I don’t think about the knee anymore. I don’t think about the strains, because of what I’ve accomplished in the last month or so.”
Besides Penny and his family, no one on the planet was more thrilled than coach Pete Carroll (well, maybe GM John Schneider, who’s still crawling out from under the dung pile flung upon him for the Penny draft).
“When does that happen in our league?” Carroll said Sunday of Penny’s 360 yards in the past two games. “That doesn’t happen . . . You can’t tackle him.”
Yet, when asked earlier about whether he believed in the notion of athletes being injury prone, he said yes.
“I don’t know if I can define it, I just know it when you see it — that’s because guys keep getting hurt,” he said. “What I found is that some players just have a knack of making it through. They have such great awareness. They don’t find themselves in awkward situations. They don’t make errors that put them in a bad spot. They have a sense for when they are getting cornered, meaning with bodies around them.
“They are comfortable in space. They can feel things. They can see things, and they just survive better than other guys. Some guys, things happen, like they have never seen it before, and bam, they get smacked, or are in an awkward position, more than other people. Some people are sick more than other people. That’s part of the makeup of the individual. The way I like to think about it, some people are way better at handling it.”
Yet he sees in front of him a guy that missed a lot of games for many of the presumptions he laid out, and was labeled as injury prone.
Carroll’s in love with him. Penny is handling the ball so well, he justified in capital letters the run-pass BALANCE that Carroll seeks every year as the epitome of offensive success.
If Carroll understood Penny’s injuries for what they are — unrelated episodes of one-off strains around one big knee injury — the Seahawks may have considered picking up his fifth-year option instead of facing the prospect of competing for him in free agency in March.
There’s no doubt Carroll wants Penny back.
“He looks really good,” he said earlier. “He looks really good playing ball. We need him on our team.”
Fortunately for the Seahawks, the loyalty they showed Penny through his various rehabs may pay off in the form of a hometown discount that keeps him out of free agency.
“I’ve never been anywhere else, and I pray I don’t, but it’s just the way they handled things,” he said of remaining in Seattle. “Through the time I’ve been here, I’ve battled injuries, and they just never gave up on me. I think it showed (Sunday) and this whole month, that they kept sticking with me.
“I really love this place.”
If player and club can strike a deal, more future success may provide an opportunity to re-visit another local language custom — the notion of describing the past several years of Carroll-Schneider drafts as mistake-prone.