Trimmed down and feeling rejuvenated following a strong offseason program, Rashaad Penny went into the final year of his rookie contract with high expectations. For the first few weeks of training camp, the fourth-year running back looked poised for a big season, exhibiting the explosiveness and play making ability that led to the Seahawks using a first round pick to select him in 2018.

But as has been the case throughout his NFL career, much to the disdain of fans, Penny wasn't able to maintain momentum due to his inability to stay healthy. Unsure of when he suffered the injury, the former San Diego State star strained his calf in mid-August and reaggravated the injury in a season-opening win over Indianapolis, eventually forcing Seattle to place him on injured reserve.

Designated to return to practice this week and expected to be activated to the Seahawks 53-man roster for Monday's game against the Saints, it's been a frustrating process for Penny, who knows he has much left to prove and simply wants to be able to contribute for his team.

"I’m just happy to play football again. I know many people know, I really try not to get hurt," Penny told reporters on Friday. "I prepare the right way to do everything right. I thought losing the weight and coming in to do what I do worked perfect for me this year, but I never let myself down. I always fought through because it’s a mental game. That’s something that I’ve definitely gotten stronger at over the time. I’m just thankful that it wasn’t something worse than what it was.”

To this point, Penny's career has been defined by constant setbacks, as he has missed a combined 26 regular season games in three-plus seasons with the Seahawks. His injury woes started right away in his first training camp, as he underwent surgery to repair a broken finger and missed most of the preseason. He would later miss a pair of regular season games with soft tissue injuries.

Bouncing back from a challenging rookie season in which he rushed for only 419 yards, Penny finally seemed to be hitting his stride and playing to his potential late in the 2019 season. Showcasing his game-changing speed, he scored a 58-yard touchdown and rushed for a career-high 129 yards in a road win over the Eagles. The next week, he produced over 100 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in a win against the Vikings.

“I just feel like the game got slower," Penny reflected. "I just feel like everything got slower, and I started to do what coaches and my teammates have been telling me to do, that’s use my speed. Ever since then, I feel like practices, little scrimmages I’ve been involved in, even preseason games, it just all got slower for me. I just started playing at the right pace, right speed, and I think that’s where I’m starting to gain an advantage."

Unfortunately, Penny's season would come to an abrupt end the following week, as Penny tore his ACL on a non-contact injury in the first quarter of a loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. He landed on injured reserve and his recovery lasted deep into the 2020 season, costing him the first 13 games before he finally made his season debut in Week 15. Appearing in just three games, he rushed 11 times for 34 yards and wound up missing the Seahawks playoff loss with a separate knee injury.

Add in his latest calf issue and it's been a humbling sequence of events for Penny, who had never dealt with injuries in high school or college. In fact, Seahawks general manager John Schneider indicated on multiple occasions he had one of the best medical evaluations they had ever given a prospect, which was part of the reason they used the No. 27 overall pick on him.

But in a sport as brutal as football, nobody is exempt from injuries, especially running backs like Penny. With him constantly being sidelined, he has tried to tune out the noise, but he hasn't been able to completely ignore fans who are angry at him or call him injury prone.

"I just feel like people don't know what we actually go through," Penny said. "I think people forget we're human sometimes, honestly. That's no fault to anybody, that's people's jobs, but people forget we're human. So I just try to shut as much noise out and just continue to focus on what I can do. I wake up every day and be like, 'All right, I've got to have a great day today and make sure I do all the right things to have a great day.' It's a plan for me. Some people don't understand, and that's fine. That's why, now that I'm available, I can get to show that again."

Penny's expected return couldn't come at a better time for the Seahawks, who already lost Chris Carson to injured reserve last week with a neck injury and may not have a fully healthy Alex Collins available on Monday due to a groin issue. With only DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer being the only two healthy backs, the former first round pick could see an extensive role in his first game in over a month.

When asked whether he would need to be eased back in, Penny immediately shot down that notion, indicating he felt he could have played a few weeks ago. But the team decided to give him a few extra weeks to ensure he was fully recovered and he used that time to work on his conditioning. In great shape, he's "revved up" for the opportunity to return and tote the rock as much as the Seahawks need him to.

While many may view this as Penny's last chance, he isn't looking at the situation that way. Still just 25 years old, he remains confident in his talents and if there's a plus side to all of his injuries, he has only logged 163 carries and should have fresh legs. As long as he can curb the injury bug that has dogged him thus far and stay on the field, he believes he can still be a difference maker and play his way back into Seattle's future plans.

"It's just all about me being available. That's the two biggest things I've been preaching the whole offseason, being available and being consistent. You have that type of career. I feel like it's just a slow start for me. I'm still young. I'm fresh. I'm ready to go. Now is the chance for me to show it."

This article first appeared on FanNation Seahawk Maven and was syndicated with permission.

More must-reads:

Customize Your Newsletter


Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.