RENTON Opening day in the NFL is like it is in any sport: Full of boundless optimism and renewal, a unique sense that being undefeated (though also winless, for that matter) to start the season brings.
There’s so much optimism this week with the refreshed Seahawks -- thanks largely to the progress of recuperating starters Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham -- even always-positive Pete Carroll feels he has to dial back some on the rampantly sunny expectations.
Seattle’s coach on Monday gave caveats, and contradictions, on the statuses of his new lead running back and star tight end entering Sunday’s first game against the Miami Dolphins at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s ready in the next couple weeks to get back in where he can start a game, take a game over and do all of the things that he can do,” Carroll said of Rawls, who broke his ankle and tore ligaments Dec. 13. “It's still time to take care of him as we get him back. He only carried the ball a couple times so far (two carries in the final preseason game last week). But he's done everything we could ask of him.
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“He's had an extraordinary offseason of hard work. Everybody admires the heck out of him. He was here every day throughout the entire offseason getting ready and just did a great job. So it's a great accomplishment for him. And he looks like he's at full speed, ready to go.”
No reason to sound alarms at Carroll’s hedging. It’s just logic: Sunday will essentially be Rawls’ second preseason game; he wasn’t on the field for any of the first three last month. To expect more 160-yard games starting now is unrealistic.
My sense is Rawls will start against Miami, but may not be ready just yet for the 20-plus carries per game he’s likely to get once he is fully back -- as in, he has proven his ankle and overall game conditioning are up to weekly featured running on Sundays. So for now No. 2 back Christine Michael is likely to get more, perhaps even double-digit, carries in a more shared load with Rawls than Michael is likely to get in October and November.
As for Graham, he hasn’t appeared in a game since he ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee Nov. 29. Though he is full go in practices with the starting offense again, it has seemed a stretch to think he will start the opener 9 1/2 months after a tricky surgery and recovery on a relatively less-common knee injury.
“We’re going to go one day at a time,” Carroll said Monday. “He’s pumped up about it. We’re going one day at a time with the thought that he’s going to play. That’s our thought. We’ll find out how that works out with no goal in mind at this point. Really, we’re just going to do it and see what that means. He’s doing that so he practices at his highest level and he’s really pushing it so we can see. It’s very similar to how we did it with Thomas.
“We’ll see what that means at the end of the week, and we’ll just take it one day at a time and then one week at a time. I have no expectations that he’s going to play this week. I’m not counting on that happening. I’m just counting on him coming out and having a really good day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Translation: We are going to push Graham in practices to see what his physical limitations may still be, but we are not expecting him to play Sunday. We are still in the exploration phase of his recovery.
If that results in Graham getting to play some against the Dolphins, what a surprise.
More likely: Luke Willson and Brandon Williams will be Seattle’s tight ends against Miami on Sunday.
Colleague Dave Boling and I discussed Carroll’s contradictions on Graham following Monday’s practice:
Some of Carroll’s tempering on this is realism that the team is still in the early stages of each starter’s comeback from major injuries.
And the side effect of leaving doubt in the game-planning Dolphins’ minds on which Seahawks they are going to be defending at running back and tight end on Sunday? Even better.