Homer’s odyssey leads him to starting role for Seahawks

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              Seattle Seahawks running back Travis Homer (25) is brought down by San Francisco 49ers' Marcell Harris on a carry during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
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RENTON, Wash. (AP) — For all the hype and attention that came with Marshawn Lynch’s return to the Seattle Seahawks, he wasn’t the running back that left the strongest impression.

Don’t believe it? Listen to Lynch himself.

“You’re inspiring me,” Lynch was caught saying to Seattle rookie running back Travis Homer on the sideline of last Sunday’s regular-season finale against San Francisco.

If there was a bright spot to come out of Seattle’s loss to San Francisco in Week 17, it was the discovery of yet another late-round draft pick showing potential as a ball carrier in Seattle’s backfield. Thrust into the starting role after injuries to Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise robbed Seattle of its depth over the final month of the season, Homer showed unabashed confidence, a willingness to deliver a hit and bursts of speed that had been buried on the depth chart all season.

Seattle will need another performance like that from Homer on Sunday in the opening round of the playoffs against Philadelphia.

“The consistency that he hits it when he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s got a really good style, attitude about running the ball. He’s just downhill and give you everything he’s got,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “That suddenness really is an asset. We really love the way he plays, love the style of his play.”

It just took a while for anyone to see what Homer could bring on the field.

He was a sixth-round pick of the Seahawks in the April draft and while he showed a few flashes during the preseason it was clear early on that Homer would be deep on the depth chart. But he instantly became important on special teams and that kept him on the active gameday roster for all 16 games. While he wasn’t getting carries, he was at least getting on the field.

The first carry of his career didn’t come until Week 13 against Minnesota when he took a fake punt for 29 yards. He got a couple of carries in cleanup duty against Carolina two weeks later after Penny was lost for the season to a knee injury. A week later, Homer was suddenly Seattle’s only healthy running back after Carson (hip) and Prosise (arm) suffered season-ending injuries in the first half of Seattle’s loss to Arizona.

Carroll said he had to remind Homer that day to be a little smarter about when to take and when to avoid hits being he was Seattle’s only healthy running back remaining.

“I didn’t really like it but I had to do what I had to do,” Homer said.

There was no need for Homer to hold back against the 49ers after the arrival of Lynch to add depth. Homer finished with 62 yards rushing on 10 carries and added another five receptions for 30 yards. He was exceptionally good on Seattle’s final two possessions of the fourth quarter doing a little of everything required of a running back in Seattle’s offense. He ran when given a chance. He caught a few passes out of the backfield as a secondary option and most importantly was solid in pass protection helping keep Russell Wilson clean.

“He’s been really true to who he is, but it wasn’t a surprise. It was good to see him be effective,” Carroll said.

The entire week was a bit surreal for Homer leading into his first career start. He knew he was going to be a big part of the game plan, but at the same time was also trying to help out Lynch in his return after 14 months away from football and four years away from Seattle.

And as for what Lynch said to him on the sideline?

“It was definitely a cool moment for me to have one of the greatest come up to me and say what he said,” Homer said.

NOTES: Seattle S Quandre Diggs practiced and is expected to play Sunday after missing the past two games with a high-ankle sprain. Diggs said the injury happened in Week 15 against Carolina when his foot got caught underneath him making a tackle. … Carroll said Lynch came out of Sunday’s game fine in his first action since October 2018.