C.J. Prosise cut sharply inside, planting his foot. Then he zipped back outside. He bounced off a defender who had put a shoulder on him. Then he sped for another 40 yards, gliding more than running.
These smooth moves with the ball in Seattle’s first team scrimmage of training camp’s first day in pads weren’t most remarkable about Prosise on Tuesday.
What was most remarkable that he finished the practice unscathed.
The Seahawks drafted the former Notre Dame wide receiver in the third round in 2016 and instantly gave him a prime role in the offense. The nation saw his ability when he romped in Seattle’s primetime win at New England last November, then for a long touchdown the following game against Philadelphia.
“He has a great scope that he fills for us,” coach Pete Carroll said of what Prosise can do compared to the Seahawks’ other backs, Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, cannot. “He can come out of the backfield and he can run routes as a receiver. And he looked really good running the ball behind the line of scrimmage.”
But the overriding question with Prosise is not ability. It’s durability.
“Early in this offseason, I focused on just getting my body right, building that core right for this year,” Prosise said before he and his teammates took Wednesday off from training-camp practices.
“That was my main focus this offseason, to get my body to the point that I could play the whole game, that I could play a full season. That was my goal.”
No wonder. Prosise has been a living, limping game of Operation recently.
In 2015 at Notre Dame he had a concussion. He ended his career with the Fighting Irish two seasons ago on the bench with an ankle injury. He was still hurt for much of the time before and after the annual NFL scouting combine in March 2016, before last year’s draft.
And he was limited again for the first organized team activities and minicamp of his NFL career that spring. That was a hip-flexor injury. Then, on the first day of training camp last summer, the rookie strained his hamstring.
Guys with less talent, speed and size would have been cut by late August. Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did express frustration that their new weapon was so malfunctioned so often and so early in his career.
But then Prosise was finally ready, for the 2016 opener against Miami. He had one carry and one catch – then cracked a bone in his wrist in that win.
He missed the next four games.
Upon his return at the end of October, Prosise was brilliant. He had 80 yards receiving at New Orleans. With Rawls out the following week at New England, Prosise made his first career start. He scorched the Patriots with 153 total yards in Seattle’s win over the eventual Super Bowl champions. Prosise became the first player to lead the Seahawks in both rushing and receiving yards in a game since Marshawn Lynch in 2014.
Prosise was so good that night the Seahawks cut running back Christine Michael days later. They decided Prosise could carry the rushing load while Rawls was injured.
Now that Prosise was back and healthy, it looked like the Seahawks got a steal. They had found a new lead back, not just a third-down one.
The following week, in the first quarter at home against the Eagles, Prosise again showed his speed. He took a handoff from Russell Wilson on Seattle’s base zone-read running play, to the left. He cut decisively right behind his entire wall of blockers, made on stutter-step move on a flailing safety and sprinted away from three other Eagles down the right sideline. He finished his first career touchdown losing his balance and tumbling into the end zone, landing on his right shoulder.
He was reviving Seattle’s offense with 233 yards on 27 touches over five quarters, 8.6 yards each time he got the ball. That’ll work, for any offense.
Then in the second quarter of that Nov. 20 game against Philadelphia, he was out again. For the rest of the season.
He had a fractured scapula. Prosise missed the final eight games, including both playoff ones.
Almost as soon as the season ended in January, Prosise went to Arizona for the remainder of the winter to train at a performance institute. He knew he had to change his training. He had to build his body more specifically so he could withstand an NFL season.
“Oh, yeah, for sure,” he said Tuesday. “I had a completely different schedule.”
In Arizona he worked not on strength and straight-line speed but on explosiveness and acceleration. He spent days upon days doing lateral-movement and change-of-direction drills. He honed his quick-twitch muscles with repetitive, short-burst exercises. He improved his flexibility. His nutrition. His rest.
Somewhat remade back at Seahawks headquarters this spring, Prosise made it through organized team activities and minicamp without missing so much as a water break.
And, yes, the Seahawks were holding their breath on that.
“It was incredibly beneficial for us to see C.J. make it through the whole time,” Carroll said.
“It was like, one day after another, nobody wanted to say anything, because he started to add up some days. Finally.
“Because he’s never had consistent preparation behind him. So he goes into this (season) hugely ahead of where he’s been in years past. And we have really high hopes.”
After minicamp ended in mid-June, Prosise, who is from Petersburg, Virginia, went back his usual offseason workout gym in Knoxville, Tennessee. He did six more weeks of workouts there.
He didn’t make his body bigger, but healthier and quicker. He believes he’s more adaptable and resilient now.
He has to be.
“I was injured going into combine training (in 2016), and just didn’t feel I had the full focus to get really right for the season last year,” he said. “This year, I really feel like I had the opportunity to do that, and did as much as I could to do that.
“So I definitely had a better regimen for my body. I really knew what I needed to work on this year.”
Saturday, Prosise reported with his teammates for training camp. That day, he ate something – he didn’t specify what -- that did not agree with him. At all.
His became violently ill early Sunday. He was too sick to eat or drink or participate in the first and second practices of camp, through Monday. Of all the reasons Prosise has been off the field the last couple years, this was a new one. What a time for bad food.
Of course, as soon everyone noticed Prosise absent during Sunday’s first practice of the 2017 season the reminders of his durability issues came rushing back. But at least this was temporary; he’s back now, after being a full participant in pads on Tuesday.
And at least this reason is avoidable.
“I know whatever I ate that day I’m never eating again. At all,” Prosise said, with a grin.
ROSTER SPOT OPEN...FOR McDOWELL?
The Seahawks cut long snapper Nolan Frese on Tuesday, a day after top rookie draft choice Malik McDowell returned to Seattle following his ATV accident last month that left him injured in Michigan. There is now an open spot on the team’s 90-man preseason roster.
The move leaves the snapper’s job for kicks and punts to Tyler Ott. Ott, a 25-year old from Harvard, snapped in Seattle’s two playoff games that finished last season. That was after Frese, 25, had the job for the 16 games of the regular season then injured his ankle.