Count on Leon
| June 23, 2010 9:00 PM
RENTON, Wash. — Leon Washington’s road back from a broken leg has come quicker than many expected.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says his recently acquired running back and 2008 All-Pro with the New York Jets will be ready for the start of training camp despite having a metal rod in his right leg.
“Yeah, we really do,” expect that, Carroll said Tuesday, when Seattle began its final minicamp before the preseason starts late next month. “We think he’s in great shape for this time. He’s ahead of schedule right now.”
When the Seahawks made a draft-day trade with the Jets on April 24 and gave up a fifth-round choice, Washington had only resumed running two weeks earlier. He had sustained a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his right leg during a Jets game at Oakland in October.
There was speculation about whether he’d be the same Pro Bowler-caliber player. Then he became expendable to the Jets when New York signed LaDainian Tomlinson and traded up in April’s draft to take USC running back Joe McKnight in the fourth round.
Washington trained at the Athletes’ Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla., this offseason. Seahawks doctors talked with their Jets counterparts. The reports left Seahawks general manager John Schneider comfortable enough to trade for him and then say: “The risk versus the reward was worth it to us.”
That risk is starting to pay off. Washington was smoothly running 20-yard sprints after Tuesday’s practice with wide receiver Deion Branch, who is also progressing well from his third knee surgery in two years.
But Carroll says Washington won’t be unleashed once camp starts.
“We’ll still be very careful in the first couple weeks of camp to make sure he’s really transitioned back in. We won’t rush that,” Carroll said. “But we’re very hopeful, and everything looks like he’s going to be fine.”
Oh, about that rod doctors inserted into Washington’s tibia: The 27-year-old brushes that off. After all, it’s going to be there forever.
“At least I know I can’t break that leg again,” he jokes.
During a previous minicamp, Washington stopped Carroll in the hallway of Seahawks headquarters and just about jumped on him to show his enthusiasm for his new NFL life.
“I’m like, ‘Coach, I’m stoked. I’m so excited,’” Washington recalled telling Carroll. “You can feel the energy in the building, in the meetings.
“It kind of reminds me of my first year in New York (in 2006, under then first-year coach Eric Mangini). Everyone said we were rebuilding — and we made the playoffs.”
Washington was the Jets’ leading rusher as a fourth-round pick that year out of Florida State. When healthy, he has been one of the league’s more dynamic players, as a kick returner and running back.
The All-Pro as a kick returner for the 2008 season made $535,000 in the final year of his rookie deal, and wanted something in the range of $5 million to $6 million a year in a long-term deal from the Jets. Then he broke his leg.
He received a second-round tender in March from the Jets worth $1.759 million. That has him in line for a subsequent multiyear contract, perhaps from Seattle if he recovers and returns to his former All-Pro form this season.
Carroll is going to give him the chance. Washington is in the mix of running backs vying for a lead role in an offense that desperately needs to improve its running game. Julius Jones led Seattle with just 663 yards last season, and by season’s end Justin Forsett had supplanted him as the top back.
The Seahawks also have former University of Washington runner Louis Rankin and Quinton Ganther, formerly of the Redskins.
They all got a break last month when the Seahawks released LenDale White, Carroll’s former star rusher at USC.
Washington says he loves Carroll’s competition carousel.
“There’s always competition,” he said, “everywhere I’ve been.”