Third-round pick C.J. Prosise will get a chance Thursday in Oakland to show why the Seahawks think he can do some of the smaller things — catching and blocking — Marshawn Lynch did so well.
The short pass, a screamer, was on its way from QB Russell Wilson before RB C.J. Prosise turned to look. Three yards deep in the end zone on an out route, Prosise, in seemingly one moment, looked back, put his feet down and his hands in front of his face, and made a flawless, instant-stop catch a few inches inside the sideline.
It was only a Tuesday training camp practice with no-contact defense. But the play’s suddenness required premium pro reflexes and instincts. It was a demonstration of why the Seahawks made him the 90th player taken in the April draft, and a reason to pay some attention to the Seahawks’ exhibition finale in Oakland at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Replacing the dynamism of retired RB Marshawn Lynch is not quite like replacing a presidential face fallen from Mt. Rushmore, but both will require a lot of Bondo and Spackle.
The mixture here is likely to be about 75 percent RB Thomas Rawls and the rest from a Wilson-focused passing game, including quicker releases that were unveiled in last season’s second half when Lynch and Rawls were out with injuries.
Someone also had to pick up the duties of Fred Jackson, a reliable vet who came in frequently on third down for his pass-catching skills and ability to block rushers.
That is the initial opening for which Prosise, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder from Notre Dame, was drafted to fill. Unless you’re a training-camp geek, you probably have lost track of the third-round pick, who missed all of camp and the first two preseason games with a hamstring strained on the first day Aug. 1.
The coaches haven’t forgotten. Aside from RT J’Marcus Webb, Prosise’s injury absence was the largest source of personnel angst on the offense. They needed to see him play.
He finally was healthy enough last week to get 23 yards in four carries in the 27-17 triumph over Dallas. The plan Thursday is to load him up with touches to help justify their belief in his upside.
“He needs to continue to stay out there,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “He’s continued to progress. He’s done great throughout this week. Really like what we saw last week.
“He’s done a really good job with all those mental reps that he was able to take (while sielined). He’s been able to carry over onto the field.”
Missed practice time is costly for any player, especially a rookie who was a running back for only his final year at Notre Dame. But for a converted wide receiver, he did well — 1,032 yards and 11 scores on just 156 carries for a remarkable 6.6 yards per carry average.
He also caught 26 passes for 308 yards and one TD, a year after leading all Irish receivers with 17.8 yards per reception. He was also special teams player of the year. And he was recruited to school as a safety.
But he has no experience punting. Other than that . . .
“I played a little defense,” Prosise said, smiling. “Made me learn different things. I had to adapt. It made me a better overall player.
“I wish I could have been an all-time receiver or an all-time running back. Things didn’t work out that way. I started out a special teamer and worked my way up. I’m happy the way it worked out.”
The versatility is why Pete Carroll nearly jumped through the draft board to get him, the first of three college runners chosen to be Lil’ Beasts.
He’s a valuable fit for perhaps the Seahawks’ most productive formation, the empty backfield. With all five eligible receivers at or near the line of scrimmage, Wilson’s agility and quick release give the Seahawks a steady advantage over the defense.
“We really like being in empty,” Carroll said. “It’s a great formation for the quarterback. Russell loves it. And that gives us a match-up opportunity that is very unique. That’s why (Prosise) was so valuable to us. That’s why we took him and that’s why we were thankful we were able to pull it off.”
Prosise’s learning curve is steepest for the task of staying inside and blocking during pass protection, one of Lynch’s lesser-appreciated skills.
“I’m getting more comfortable with protections and with what Russ wants me to do,” Prosise said. “Protections are huge — third and short, third and medium. I take pride in picking up my guys. You gotta be aggressive with these big guys; gotta get ‘em low and take ‘em on.
“Figuring who to block is hard, then blocking is even harder.”
Lynch often took greater pride in leveling a blitzing linebacker than he did stiff-arming a safety downfield. When Prosise grows into that responsibility, Carroll’s early enthusiasm will be clear to all.
Cuts of Browner, Lewis explained
Carroll was asked about the decisions this week to cut DB Brandon Browner and C Patrick Lewis, the two most prominent players jettisoned before the final cuts Saturday.
Not only did Lewis, a nine-game starter last season, get beat out by the move of Justin Britt to center, rookie sixth-rounder Joey Hunt won the backup job.
“Joey has done a great job,” Carroll said. “He’s been really sharp. “(He has) an understanding of what we want. He comes from a wealth of experience. (Texas Christian) did a great job with him reading defenses. He helps guys around him because he’s so bright.”
Browner, 32, simply couldn’t make the adjustment fast enough to safety from cornerback, where he played in his first go-round with the Seahawks. Kelcie McCray has had an impressive camp and will be the first backup at both safety spots.
“We just felt like we ran out of time getting him ready to play safety,” Carroll said. “But to fit in the roster, I thought that it was going to be a race for him to make it. He could play for us, but I think it’s still a ways to come. (Waiving him now will) give him more chances to find a place with someone else.
“In many scenarios, we would ask him to come back. We left with that exchange. I love that guy, his competitiveness and toughness. It was a big request. We weren’t making him play safety and faking it. We needed him to play, and the other guys were just ahead of him.”