Leon Junior wore Dad’s helmet. The 4-year-old had on Dad’s football gloves, too, carrying a mini football after watching Seattle’s practice Monday afternoon.
Leon Washington’s youngest son was there, too, 13 months and already running. His name is Noel, which is Leon backward.
Seattle’s newest running back was a portrait of happiness after Monday’s practice. He was in a new city with his family, back on the field practicing nine months after a compound fracture of his right leg.
Just getting this far was an accomplishment for a player the Seahawks are hoping will be the most dynamic addition to an offense that last season scored its fewest points in 17 years. Washington, 27, believes his comeback is only getting started.
“It’s one of my goals,” Washington said. “It’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to become a Pro Bowl player again.”
There’s a ways to go. He’s limited in practice and hasn’t been participating in the 11-on-11 team portion of practice. He’s still rehabbing with exercises like running around cones.
But his quickness is still there, and the Seahawks just might have themselves a whippet-quick back who is 5 feet 10 and equipped with as many tools as a Swiss Army Knife.
The enthusiasm is apparent, his optimism unvarnished, and that is nothing short of remarkable considering exactly what has happened to his career over the past 12 months.
One year ago, he was coming off a Pro Bowl season with the Jets, a positively electric running back and kick returner seeking a long-term contract.
In order, he suffered a serious compound fracture of his right leg, ending his season. Then the free-agency rules changed in March. Washington had been scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, eligible to sign with any team. He became a restricted free agent, who signed a one-year tender only to get traded to Seattle so the Jets could turn a seventh-round pick into a fifth-round selection.
So to summarize, he suffered an injury that required a rod be placed into his leg, he had his leverage to negotiate a long-term deal completely undermined and then he was traded from a playoff team many expect to be a Super Bowl contender to a rebuilding franchise with a new coach and new general manager that has won nine games the previous two years combined.
In the Jets locker room, Washington has become a cautionary tale, an example that with the perilous nature of football, a player should get what he can when he can. Washington’s situation has cast a shadow over the holdout of cornerback Darrelle Revis, a good friend of Washington.
“We talk,” Washington said. “He’s good friends with my family, and I’m a good friend of his family. We talk often. The thing I told him, I said, ‘Man, you’ve got to do what’s best for your family.’ ”
There is no bitterness in Washington’s words. He is not sullen about what might have been. The sun is out, his family is in town, and he’s happy. Ecstatic even.
“That’s just who he is,” said tight end Chris Baker, Washington’s teammate on the Jets and now again in Seattle.
Baker and Washington planned a fishing trip for April 24. They were heading out from Long Island to go for striper bass when Washington got a call. Turns out that Baker was now his future teammate. Washington was joining Baker on the Seahawks.
He was one of two running backs Seattle traded for that day, the other being LenDale White, who has already been cut.
That leaves Washington as the one potentially dynamic upgrade for an offense that has not had a single player rush for 1,000 yards in any of the previous four seasons.
Not that Washington will be the workhorse. He’s the home-run threat, the quick-twitch runner whose job is to change the game’s pace and whose first impression in Seattle has been nothing but bright.
“He’s got a great attitude, a really strong character kid and a wonderful kid to add to the team,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Once he becomes part of the full action he’s going to have an influence on the other guys as well. I think it’s a really great asset as we begin to put things together.”