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Larry Stone: Is running back C.J. Prosise’s storyline ready to take another turn?

UPDATED: Wed., July 31, 2019

Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) works off the block by Seattle Seahawks offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (64) to get to running back C.J. Prosise (22) during the first half Nov. 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Alex Gallardo / AP)
Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) works off the block by Seattle Seahawks offensive guard J.R. Sweezy (64) to get to running back C.J. Prosise (22) during the first half Nov. 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Alex Gallardo / AP)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

RENTON, Wash. – When he first showed up in Seahawks camp in 2016, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame, the dominant C.J. Prosise storyline was his dazzling potential.

And he flashed it, tantalizingly, in his first NFL start, rushing for 66 yards and catching seven passes for 87 more yards in an upset win over the Patriots.

The next week, against the Eagles, Prosise ripped off a 72-yard touchdown run on his second carry. It was the eighth-longest run in franchise history and remains their longest since Marshawn Lynch went 79 yards against Arizona in 2014, aka Beast Quake 2. The Seahawks appeared to have unearthed a star.

But from literally his next carry – in which he was blown up for a 6-yard loss by Eagles defenders Malcom Jenkins and Nigel Bradham, and suffered a devastating, season-ending shoulder injury in the process – Prosise’s narrative took a dark turn. And it remains cemented in place, three years later.

Nearly every story on Prosise since that day has had the same theme: Will he ever be healthy enough again for the Seahawks to further unleash his undeniable package of skills? Or will that two-game glimpse have to stand as a perpetual tease of what could have been?

In this still-young Seattle camp, after a seemingly endless string of injuries to myriad body parts that limited Prosise to just 16 out of a potential 51 games, there is a twist.

Now the prevailing question is, is this Prosise’s last chance in Seattle?

The Seahawks have amassed a deep and talented contingent of running backs. Chris Carson is coming off a 1,000-yard season. Rashaad Penny, a first-round pick in 2018, has drawn raves in camp. They are fixtures on the roster. Prosise might well be battling with impressive rookie Travis Homer and versatile speedster J.D. McKissic to keep from being the odd man out as he reaches the final season of his initial four-year rookie contract.

Pete Carroll still raves about Prosise’s vast potential. But the time has come for him to show it, which requires, foremost, staying on the field – as the 25-year-old fully recognizes.

“I think that’s going to bring out the best in me,” Prosise said after Tuesday’s practice – and after a set of post-workout wind sprints he did on his own.

There were some snickers when Prosise missed the first preseason workout with the flu. But that was just bad timing that belied the fact that he was healthy and available throughout the offseason minicamps and OTAs. Prosise was back the next day and said, in fact, that he feels great following abdominal surgery last December.

“I actually feel almost like a new man since that surgery,” Prosise said. “I feel like I was dealing with some stuff that’s been going on really since college. I finally got that fixed, and now I’m feeling great.

“I think it started off something that happened my sophomore or junior year in college, and kept aggravating over time. I never really thought it was a big problem, and then it really turned into one.”

Last offseason, Prosise began working with a personal trainer, Kevin Allen, to better prepare his body for the rigors of life as an NFL running back. But because of the abdominal injury that limited him to five games and one carry in 2018, he never got a true test of his preparation. He is eagerly awaiting that chance.

“I’m definitely excited to get out there,” he said. “There’s definitely a little anxiety just to be out there and play a game again. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to get out there and actually play.”

Prosise’s potential entrée onto the roster would seem to be as a third-down and 2-minute back, as well as special-teams participant. His receiving ability is a big selling point – but again, it comes down to being available after a mind-boggling array of injuries to his scapula, hamstring, groin, ankle and wrist.

Trust me, Prosise is more frustrated than any fan. He knows his words sound hollow until he gets consistent game action. He hopes that starts Aug. 8 when the Seahawks have their first preseason game.

“It’s disappointing,” he said of his injury woes. “I really want to be out here, I really want to play, and I really want to showcase what I can do. I really haven’t been able to do that. For me, every day I have to get better, keep working on my game, working on my assignments. And when I get my assignments, I have to make the most of it.”

Some of Prosise’s injuries have been plain old bad luck. Some have been the byproduct of playing a violent, vulnerable position. He hopes that the former has run its course, and his stepped-up conditioning regimen will take care of the latter.

“Stuff happens,” he said. “I play the game of football, and I play a tough position. I can’t control what I can’t control. I’m just going to go out there, play as hard as I can, and help my team win.”

Throughout the ordeals of the past three years, Prosise has remained a consistent practitioner of community involvement. He was sidelined from a football standpoint, but it didn’t curtail him from handing out goodies at Mary’s Place homeless shelter in Seattle on Valentine’s Day, or providing Thanksgiving dinners at the Boys and Girls Club in Seattle. He is a frequent visitor at hospitals and works extensively with children in Seattle and his native Petersburg, Virginia.

“I’m trying to use my platform to do whatever I can,” he said. “I want to teach the youth they have a shot to be somebody. Because where I’m from, not a lot of people make it out. I want them to know there’s a lot more out there in the world for them. There’s a lot of opportunity for them.”

For Prosise’s own career, “opportunity” is the operative word. He knows that he is fighting for his spot on the team.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I feel like every day I’m fighting. For me, that makes me better. I think that’s going to bring the best out of me. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Maybe the C.J. Prosise storyline is ready to take another turn – off the sideline, and out of the darkness.

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