Early in the Seahawks' win over the Jets last weekend, DeeJay Dallas limped to the sideline after sprinting down the field on kick coverage.
If you didn't know Dallas, you might have thought his day was over from the looks of things, but not only did the third-year running back finish the game, he did so by gaining career highs in rushing and receiving yards, accounting for 98 total yards on 10 touches, and while also handling his usual multiple roles on special teams, including punt return duty.
It's hardly an eye-popping stat-line, gaining 43 yards on seven carries and 55 receiving yards on three catches, but it was the type of game that, combined with his special teams play, had Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gushing about Dallas, going so far as to say he might have been the MVP of that win.
Dallas' play is all the more impressive when you consider he is only a month removed from suffering a high ankle sprain in Seattle's Week 13 win over the Rams, a game he was somehow able to finish on a day the Seahawks really needed him, with Kenneth Walker III leaving the game with an ankle injury of his own. Dallas missed the next two games because of that injury, but has been back the past two weeks, making big contributions despite the lingering effects of the injury.
"We love him," Carroll said. "He is just a 'dyed in the wool' guy. He's really such a good competitor with such a great attitude. If you guys can hear him talk, 'I'm going to play this week. There is nothing keeping me from playing,' and the way he is determined to do it. This is three weeks ago from when he got hurt. He's maximized every opportunity to take care of himself and heal himself, so that he could play with his guys. He's not 100 percent, but you can't tell because he's going so hard. I thought the style difference between the way he ran the way Ken ran helped us. He hit the line of scrimmage and bounced and spun and did the stuff the way he does it. I thought it was a really good complement to, 'You better look out for Ken when he got the ball in his hands, he could jump anywhere.' In the running game and passing game, he did really well, and he played a ton of special teams too which is great. He's such a good special teams player for all those same reasons. He might've been the MVP of that game."
A fourth-round pick in the 2020 draft, Dallas came to Seattle knowing he'd need to prove himself to be a versatile player to maximize his opportunities, and this year more than ever, whether it has been as a running back who can catch the ball out of the backfield, pass protect, or just take a handoff and get downhill, or whether he's called upon to do a little bit of everything on special teams, including kick and punt returns at various times this season, Dallas has been making the most of whatever opportunities come his way.
"I just like to do whatever it is that the team needs of me," he said. "If that's running down on kickoff, I'll do it; catching out of the backfield, running the ball, making tackles, I just want to win, and if me doing a lot of different things for us will help us win, then I'll do it."
As for fighting through the ankle injury, Dallas said, "I'm not near 100 percent, but I'm the type that's going to give everything that I've got every day, every Sunday or Monday or whatever day we play. If that's what's needed to win, I'm going to do it. I'm going to take some Tylenol, rub some dirt on it and go play."
While Dallas has been one of Seattle's top special teams players, both he and Travis Homer, who is currently dealing with an ankle injury of his own, started showing coaches a little something more last season in terms of their play on offense. That change really showed up in the way Dallas ran in Sunday's game, particularly late as he helped the Seahawks close out the victory.
"Something happened last year with our guys and Rashaad (Penny) stepped into a different mode in running our offense, and he affected Homer and DeeJay and the guys that were here in a way on the tempo of how they were reading stuff and hitting the line of scrimmage," Carroll said. "Both Homer and DeeJay came back better than they were the year before, just coming off of last season even in the last five or six games when Rashaad was so hot. You're seeing it, and it's a carry over."
Dallas said he began to feel the change in a late-season game against the Rams last year in which he rushed for 41 yards on eight carries.
"End of last season, I kind of felt like I was better than my rookie season, and now I feel like maybe I do belong here," he said. "I'm just going to keep improving, keep maturing in this game, keep being a student of the game, and see where it takes me… The game just completely slowed down for me and I was like, 'I'll just go out and play.'"
When the Seahawks offense takes the field for the first time on Sunday, Dallas likely won't be on the field barring something unexpected, but make no mistake, he'll play a big role in Sunday's game.
"I love playing with DeeJay," quarterback Geno Smith said. "We talk about it all the time—his passion for the game, he does it all. He's a Swiss Army Knife. He's our punt returner, kick returner, can be a receiver, running back, great in protection, great teammate. You just talk about all the things he brings to our offense. I think he is a starter in this league. Obviously, he's got guys in front of him, but every time he gets the ball or gets an opportunity, you've seen what he has done out there. He steps up. I really appreciate playing with him, smart player, always knows what to do. Our communication is great back there, and I really feel comfortable with him in the game."
The Seahawks and Rams face off for the first game of the regular season on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Rams.