With only one day until the final preseason game, the start of college football this week, and less than two weeks from the season opener, the season of football—life as it should be— is finally upon us. We can end much of the meaningless preseason speculation and instead start arguing about much more important matters, such as which quarterbacks are elite, how much weight Eddie Lacy has lost, and whether or not Cam Newton is a leader.
On the other hand, the fact that are still a few weeks left means that I can continue speculating about the Seahawks’ rookies.
C.J. Prosise, after missing the first two preseason games, finally got a few snaps (16, to be exact) against the Cowboys. Most were rather inconsequential and displayed little of his skillset, but they did show what Pete Carroll seems to have in mind for the rookie.
While at Notre Dame, Prosise played at wide receiver and defensive back before he switched to running back during his final year. With his speed and skills with the ball in the air, it is obvious that he stands to make a difference in the passing game— a role typically expected of a prototypical 3rd-down back.
When in the game (during passing situations), a 3rd-down back will be expected to do some variant of one of three actions: Run a draw play, run a receiving route, or pass block. Of his 16 snaps, he did one of these three actions on all but three plays (those in which he took a normal hand-off or read option).
On third and 20, this play was designed to conservatively gain a few yards to give Jon Ryan some more room to punt. It was Prosise’s biggest gain of the day but showed little of his ability one way or another. Dallas rushed four linemen, with two of them overloading the far-right side, while no linebacker was within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
C.J. slipped through the gaping hole, followed a nice-open field block from Luke Willson, then cut upfield to do his best to fight for a couple more yards. Though it only gained three meaningless yards on the end of the run, that explosive decision to bring the physicality to the defenders, rather than avoiding them, was encouraging. That relentless and fearless mindset is ideal for the running back position.
If nothing else, just enjoy watching Justin Britt completely whiff a block and eat turf far away from the action of the football.
Four times, Prosise ran this exact route, to one side or the other. He chips the defensive end at the start of the play, then heads off into the flats. This serves two purposes: first, it might slow down the rushing end just enough to let the right tackle keep his engagement; second, at first, it will look to the defense like his role is to block, not to run a route. That split second of deception might be enough to allow him to get a step on the linebacker or safety tasked with covering him.
Dallas did a good job covering the flats all day, and he was never targeted. He also ran a few flat routes without the chip and also lined up as a far receiver and ran a five-yard curl. All of these plays are little more than going through the motions for any running back, but the coaches’ desire to use him as a receiving weapon is obvious.
When fans on internet boards love a certain running back, yet that player never gets any carries, they usually jump right to “well he must not be pass blocking very well” as the reason why. It’s an overused scapegoat, but still an important skill for any back.
During his pro debut, Prosise was asked to block four times, but only in this one did the quarterback hold onto the ball long enough for the pass rush to reach the running back.
I have watched this gif on loop probably 50 times, and I still don’t know what the offense was trying to do here. My first thought was that it was a busted screen with the way many of the offensive linemen let pass rushers through almost untouched—except there was no one waiting to catch the screen. Instead, it looks like Darrell Bevell called a max protect while sending only two receivers on vertical routes.
Instead of max protecting, the entire offensive line failed, save for tight end Luke Willson. Germaine Ifedi is double teamed due to Gary Gilliam sprinting left to block no one in particular and Justin Britt falling down again. Ifedi does a decent job of chipping the inside rusher and moving to the outside man, but isn’t quite fast enough to stop the second.
This is where Prosise messes up. He initially goes to the gap between Ifedi and Britt, but realizes (slightly too late) that the man outside of Ifedi is the free rusher. He tries to get over to help, but is in a bad position and has little more effect on the rush than a plastic bag on an interstate.
While it wasn’t his best moment, few running backs in the NFL could consistently make that decision and block, if any. This is more of an entire team failure than anything.
He also spent a little time as a true running back.
Three carries, actually. For 12 yards. A five yard gain came from a nice hole in the offensive line that he slipped though gracefully before being converged upon by hungry linebackers.
Here, he lost a yard on a read option in which Mark Glowinski executed a beautiful stumble technique as the lineman rushed past him. Prosise let loose a nice spin to dodge the assailant, but the spin turned him back in the direction that Russell Wilson would have went had he kept the ball. Unfortunately, Russell had made the correct read, and the intentionally-unblocked man was waiting there for an easy tackle.
At least it wasn’t Justin Britt this time.
This was easily his best play of the entire night. Designed to be a run off of left tackle, Prosise was meant to follow his fullback outside of the left hashes. Right tackle Terry Poole (I still think he should be a starter) does a great job keeping the outside man far away from the play while right guard Jahri Evans bulldozes the nose tackle a solid four yards out of the gap. Prosise sees the sudden gaping hole open, and he doesn’t hesitate to improvise and take the cutback lane.
He explodes out of the 45-degree cut and smoothly spins past the in-position-yet-somewhat-surprised linebacker and then hits the waiting safety with enough force to pick up another couple of yards.
So where does C.J. Prosise fit?
With only a few snaps, its hard to glean anything from what we saw last Thursday. With only one year of experience as a running back, he’s a bit raw. Yet the speed and acceleration at his size are remarkable. Not only is he a threat as a runner, but he can do things like this too:
With fluid speed and graceful acceleration, he is absolutely a dynamic weapon to be used in the offense. However, as with all unique weapons, how does an offensive coordinator use them? If Prosise is only used as a receiver out of the backfield, then opposing teams will catch on.
He will have to find a way to become trustworthy enough as a true running back to get the coaches to allow him meaningful carries in that regard.
His dynamic versatility is too unique to waste, and I see no scenario in which he doesn’t make the 53-man roster. My prediction is that Darrell Bevell will design some plays for him early in the season, but it will be too obvious and won’t go well. Prosise will disappear for much of the middle part of the season, but will emerge towards the end of the season as a regular contributor, both in the running and passing game.