RENTON Yes, the Seahawks’ stalled running game could use better blocking.
It could use longer, more-sustained drives, to vary the play-call options. It could use the lead, too, so it can play from ahead.
Maybe most of all, it could use what his team thinks Thomas Rawls will bring Sunday in his expected return from injury against San Francisco.
“Violence,” offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Tom Cable said.
The good kind, of course. The football, run-through-defenders, gain-yards sort of violence.
“I mean, really, when you think about his career, what he has done, he is going to come after it,” Cable said. “He is going to go after it every time he touches it.”
Rawls indeed has specialized in running over guys during his first two seasons as the Seahawks’ rugged successor to Marshawn Lynch at lead running back.
It’s just that his punishing rushing style too often has also punished himself.
The high-ankle sprain that’s cost him the last month makes this the third season of his three in the NFL with Seattle that Rawls has missed games because of injury. Last weekend’s 17-9 loss at Green Bay in the opener was the 11th regular-season game he’s missed out of a possible 33 starts in his pro career.
The 24-year-old from the University of Michigan (where he was a backup for three years) then Central Michigan (where he got suspended his one season for academic and legal issues) hasn’t completed an entire season as a lead back since he was at Flint Northern High School.
How eager is he to make his 2017 season debut Sunday against the 49ers?
“Oh, man! I haven’t had contact. I’ve been around here forever,” he said, looking around the locker room toward the training room before Thursday’s practice. “I get a chance to get some work against another team.
“I’m one of those people that know that timing is everything. And I’m ready to be back out there right now.”
For the Seahawks’ offense, though it’s just one game in, the time is now.
“He looks to be prepared to go,” coach Pete Carroll said, “and that is what we are counting on--until we can’t.”
Running backs Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise and Eddie Lacy ran 15 times for 53 yards against the Packers last weekend. It was 14 times for just 24 yards aside from rookie Carson’s startling, cut-back run for 30 yards in the second that set up Blair Walsh’s second field goal.
Carroll said Rawls was close to playing at Green Bay. The Seahawks chose to think about Rawls hopefully being available for the other 15 regular-season games.
“I know our coaches and our trainers, they are going to take good care of us,” Rawls said. “I think that was the main reason. I was out there ready to go, full go, full tilt. I feel like I could have. But...it’s not one of those rush-back things.”
Rawls watched from the sideline at Lambeau Field last Sunday as the offense gained its fewest yards in three years, went for 3 for 12 on third downs and managed just nine points in the opening loss.
“Frustrating,” he said. “I want to be out there with my teammates--a little bit. Nothing crazy. I knew that I’d be back the next week, so it was just a matter of the next guy up. I’ve got other guys in this backfield that can carry the load, also, and they displayed it. But we didn’t come out with the win.”
Rawls got his latest injury after running two times for 5 yards in the first preseason game Aug. 13 at the Los Angeles Chargers.
“Minor. Minor. Just a high-ankle sprain,” he said. “Nothing crazy.”
But it was enough to make people with, around and following the Seahawks remember how often he’s been hurt.
He was leading the NFL in yards per carry in his out-of-nowhere 2015 replacing the injured Lynch, and was the first undrafted rookie in league history to rush for at least 160 yards in two games of his debut season. Then he broke his ankle on Dec. 13 of that year early in a game at Baltimore.
He didn’t get back fully until the opener of the 2016 season. Then in game two last year, at the Rams, he got kicked and cracked his fibula. He missed the next seven games. He really wasn’t right until early December when he rushed for 106 yards against Carolina. That and a Seahawks playoff-record 161-yard night in the wild-card playoff game against Detroit the next month were the glimpses of why he entered 2017 as the lead back over newly signed Eddie Lacy. But aside from those two games, Seattle dropped from fourth in the NFL in rushing in Rawls’ big rookie year to 25th last season when he missed two months.
The Seahawks signed Lacy from Green Bay this offseason to a one-year, prove-it deal partly because they hadn’t been able to count on Rawls to be the lead back for an entire season. Then in his first game of any kind for this season, he got hurt again.
Lacy had an opportunity last week to seize a prominent role in the running game. But he ran behind zero blocking from the struggling offensive line while gaining 3 yards on five carries.
So now it’s Rawls’ time.
What’s he expect to provide Sunday to the needy offense that has set an improved running game as its top priority this season?
“Being beneficial to the team. Running the ball hard. Bringing that mentality,” he said. “Doing whatever we have to do to have a bounce-back week after last week.”