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Could the return of Luke Willson signal an increased workload for Rashaad Penny?

Oakland Raiders v Seattle Seahawks
“Make sure you don’t survive roster cuts, because after we swindle the Steelers out of a 5th for Vannett we’re going to bring you back.”
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

An otherwise quiet Tuesday evening quickly lit up with excitement for fans of the Seattle Seahawks when word leaked out that the team was trading fourth year tight end Nick Vannett to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vannett had failed to live up to his potential during his three plus years with the Hawks, and at 26 years of age, he’s starting to run out of time to become the player many hoped for when he was drafted. And, as our own Mookie Alexander pointed out earlier this morning, the departure of Vannett has opened a roster spot for the return of former Seahawk Luke Willson.

Willson certainly has his certain weaknesses in his game, as evidenced by the fact that he has been available as a street free agent for the past few weeks. However, where Willson excels could help the team stick to more zone blocking runs, which could have a beneficial impact on the performance of the run game.

Specifically, one of Willson’s greatest strengths is his ability to deliver a devastating cut block to seal the backside. While it’s certainly not the most difficult task, not every tight end has the explosiveness and athleticism to deliver just such a block.

The backside cut block used in many zone schemes is vital to prevent a defender from killing the play before it has a true chance to start. Why this could be a big key all of a sudden comes from a combination of factors, including Chris Carson’s fumbles and Rashaad Penny’s performance against the Steelers in Week 2.

For starters, Penny’s ability to consistently make the proper read and hit the hole was evident, and as I noted in the Run Game Review for Carson that week, every single handoff to Penny against the Steelers came on an inside zone run. Thus, it appears as though the team may have reached a point where they are comfortable giving Penny the ball extensively in a zone running attack. At the same time, Carson seems likely to find himself in the doghouse for his continued fumble issues.

Thus, it does not seem out of the question for Seattle to begin to take advantage of Penny’s skills more in the coming weeks than they have in the past. If the team finds success in that well, it could be that Carson is relegated to the bench for an extended period of time until he’s able to demonstrate that the fumble issues are no longer an issue.

So, while the ink on Willson’s contract is likely still drying, don’t be surprised if there are a couple of new wrinkles in the Seattle running game when the Hawks take on the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in Week 4 or, more likely against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5.