It’s been quite the year for Chris Carson. The second-year back just finished a breakout sophomore season, helped revive the Seattle rushing attack and dragged the Seahawks to the postseason after being left out a season ago. And he owes a good part of his success to a conversation he had in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
As a seventh-round pick by Seattle in 2017, Carson’s chances of making the team, much less playing a featured role, were slim. But a solid summer camp and some head turning during the preseason landed him at RB1 for the Seahawks’ season opener as a rookie. He would start three of the next four games including his final, a home rout of the Indianapolis Colts.
His season ended in Week 4 with a twist and a gruesome break. Missing time had become an unwelcome nearly annual occurrence for Carson starting back in high school. Once again, he would be sidelined due to injury, and the deja vu was mutual in Seattle. It would make three consecutive years that an Emerald City rusher was bitten by the bug. A promising start met a gut-wrenching finish and Carson’s chances of finding success in the NFL seemed even slimmer.
It doesn’t take a second glance at Chris Carson to realize that he’s a physical freak. When the highly sought junior college back recanted his pledge to in-state Georgia — thanks in no small part to a visit from Mike Gundy and Barry Sanders’ Heisman trophy — the buzz around Stillwater was palpable.
The leaked practice pics were only trumped by stories from defensive teammates comparing Carson to Adrian Peterson, and Mike Gundy gushed over his “12-pack” abs.
But the on-field success didn’t stack up to the hype, at least not initially. Credit some of that to a rebuilding offensive line unit and some to the transition from toting the ball for Butler Community College to starting at running back in the Big 12. He finished his junior season with 517 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. As a senior, Carson totaled just 45 in two starts before a thumb injury planted him on the bench for four games and opened the door for a freshman Justice Hill to take the reins of the Cowboys’ run game.
Carson returned for the Kansas game but had lost his starting job to the eventual record-setting frosh. He worked his way into shape over the next four weeks including a season-high 79 yards plus two scores against Texas Tech in Stillwater. But his best play in that game was probably the one when he didn’t score, on purpose. Instead of going for a career-high third rushing touchdown, Carson truck-sticked a Red Raider and then took a knee on the Tech 4-yard line. It was a savvy move which allowed the Cowboys to run clock and facilitated the tight 45-44 win.
That massive planting preceded a conversation with former OSU running back and teammate Rennie Childs that Carson recalled recently with ESPN. Childs was puzzled by Carson’s running style, which he admits was more finesse and less fierce, and challenged his teammate to run over people.
Over the final four games of his college career, Carson was more road grader than road runner chewing up 7.4 yards per carry and scoring five times on the ground. It was that change and that final stretch that intrigued and impressed Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll on film and eventually led to his selection with the No. 249th overall pick.
“When he had said that in the meeting room, I kinda felt like he was trying me in a way,” Carson recalled. “So I was like, ‘All right, I’m about to show you.’ So I think the next week we played TCU and I had a run when I ran over a couple people. From then on, I was like, ‘Dang, I like that feeling better to run somebody over versus trying to juke somebody,’ so I just stuck with that from there.” [ESPN]
When Chris Carson finally received the call he’d actively waited three days for, it included some early coaching.
“Remember, your style, you’re going to hammer it. Physical, tough, knock the **** out of ’em,” said Carroll on the call that would change Carson’s life. “Work on teams, special teams is a really big deal too. But bring the attitude. There’s only one way for you to play. You know that. You were a little uncertain at times. But now you know that because you and I are agreeing on that, right?”
“Yes sir,” was all Carson could muster at that moment, but he took every word to heart and then showed it on the field.
“I tried to change my game a couple years back, knowing that I’m not a speed guy,” Carson told the NFL Network earlier this year. “So I changed my game up to fit my personality and my style so I became more of a physical runner and it’s working out.”
It has been working out for the second-year back who finished up the regular season by earning the NFC Offensive Player of the Month. In five games in December, Carson led the NFC with 516 rushing yards and five rushing scores — just 1 yard shy and matching his TDs from his entire junior season.
The running back taken three picks ahead of Mr. Irrelevant turned in the first 1,000-yard rushing season by a Seahawk since Marshawn Lynch was going “Beast Mode” four years earlier. No former Oklahoma State back has reached that mark since Tatum Bell amassed 1,025 yards for the Broncos back in 2006. Carson ended the year fifth in NFL in rushing yards (1,511) and seventh in rushing TDs (9).
Carson, who struggled to make the transition and find his footing in the Big 12, has become one of the NFL’s most exciting young running backs, and it appears he owes at least some of his success to a challenge — and a little ribbing — from a college teammate.