As a senior at San Diego State, running back Rashaad Penny exploded onto the scene, leading the nation with 2,248 rushing yards and scoring 28 combined touchdowns.
After showcasing home run threat capabilities as a runner, receiver, and return specialist, the Seattle Seahawks shocked many by selecting the dynamic back with the 27th overall selection in the first round of this year's NFL draft. Weighing nearly 240 pounds, the rookie has already impressed coaches and teammates with his pure athleticism, instincts, and ability to make defenders whiff in space.
Even with all of the talents he possesses with the football in his hands, however, pass protection continues to be the Achilles heel that could limit Penny's snap counts once the regular season arrives. While the Seahawks have been happy with how hard he's worked to improve this area of his game and love how effectively he reads blitzes, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer admitted his fundamentals still need some refinement.
"It’s just the technique stuff that he’s got to get better with." Schottenheimer said following Monday's practice. "Again, it’s just a whole different animal once you find your guy, then you’ve got to be able to go move your feet, get into position, kind of take away his inside strike."
At the college level, Penny rarely was asked to stay in as a pass protector, as San Diego State deployed a run-heavy offense built around the star running back and a physical offensive line. When the Aztecs did decide to throw the ball, they wanted their best play maker available as a receiver and he ran routes of the backfield most of the time.
Despite the lack of experience, the Seahawks were more than comfortable using a coveted first-round pick to draft Penny and he's been working diligently to improve his craft.
"There’s an art to it, and unfortunately it’s hard to practice that until you get pads on so I will say again, from a knowing who he has [standpoint], he’s been doing great."
Penny only stayed in to pass protect once during Seattle's preseason opener against Indianapolis and primarily ran routes out of the backfield, but this shouldn't be much of a surprise. Teams often use vanilla game plans during exhibition games and limit exotic blitzes, so running backs don't stay in to protect as frequently because opponents are only sending three or four rushers most of the time.
Moving towards the second preseason game versus the Chargers, the Seahawks will be looking for continued growth from Penny in pass protection and he will likely see increased opportunities to put what he's learned so far to the test. Schottenheimer remains confident the talented back will figure things out sooner rather than later.
"When they do the one-on-one pass [protection] stuff, he’ll get beat from time to time but I haven’t seen him check up one time. He wants to get back in there, and that’s when you know you’re going to have a great pass protector.”