RENTON It was game night. So of course Thomas Rawls was in the locker room putting on his shoulder pads and cleats.
The Seahawks’ lead running back entering this summer was getting ready to pull his blue game jersey with number 34 on over the pads. He was preparing for another attempt to revive his season and his team’s running game against the Atlanta Falcons Monday night.
Then he got the word: Take off you gear. You are inactive. Don’t bother putting on your uniform.
"He didn’t take it well," coach Pete Carroll said.
"And I don’t expect him to. I want him to want to be out there in the worse way. And he wants to go right now and he wants to play right now. He is a team guy and he is a consummate team guy.
“And I’m hoping that he will be a big factor in this game this week.”
Yes, six days later after Rawls watched the loss to the Falcons in sweats, the Seahawks are going to ask the guy they’ve left a healthy scratch for the first two times in his three-year career these last two months to, hey, forgive, forget and forge on.
We need you to run at San Francisco Sunday.
Mike Davis was the surprise starting running back instead of Rawls against Atlanta, days after his promotion from the practice squad. Davis ran impressively in his Seattle debut. Frankly, he ran like Rawls used to. But the former 49er the Seahawks signed off waivers this past spring strained his groin after six carries, 18 yards and two catches for 41 more yards. Davis won’t play against his former team this weekend.
"I’m expecting him to go out and play his buns off this week," Carroll said.
Those are going to be some steamed buns.
"Yeah, it was a little unexpected," he understated about being inactive Monday night.
"Anybody (would be surprised), when you are putting on your pads and they tell you…”
Then Rawls slipped back into team-first mode.
"One thing we’ve got to continue to do is trust. Is it hard in that fashion? A little. But I went through it, and, you know, we didn’t come out with the win but it gave us the best chance possible,” he said.
How tricky a deal is this, being a team guy while not just getting benched but de-uniformed moments before taking the field?
How motivated will Rawls be this Sunday, after being told sorry, we don’t need you--again--and now, hey, we need you.
"I’m still a part of this team," Rawls said.
He has 125 yards rushing in seven games this season. It’s really six games; in the week-three loss at Tennessee Rawls played just one snap and didn’t touch the ball.
"I still hold myself accountable, not just in this league but in this whole organization and with my teammates,” he said. “I’ve definitely accountable in that regard.
"So, whenever my number’s called, I’ll be ready."
Offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell acknowledged that Rawls’ current situation is, well, a tad odd.
“Yeah, I think it can be a tricky thing,” Bevell said following Wednesday’s practice.
“I think it’s really important to have good chemistry. I think it’s important to have good trust and open communication, because at some point, we know that we’re going to need everyone. You try to talk about it. You preach about it all the time. But I think it’s just how you handle those situations.
“Obviously, everybody of these guys, Thomas included, they’re all very competitive guys. They all believe that they can make the difference. That’s why they’re up here playing in the NFL. So we love that about all of those guys. But there’s times where he’s been active where other guys could’ve had a shot, and then somebody else had a shot and he could’ve been active. It’s that communication, that dialogue, that trust. And then know that somewhere, it’s going to come back to you.”
Rawls burst into the league with the Seahawks out of almost nowhere in 2015. He was the NFL’s leader in yards per carry, at more than 5.6, his rookie season after Marshawn Lynch got injured and eventually left the team. Rawls became the first undrafted rookie in league history to rush for more than 160 yards in two different games. The second time was his 209-yard rampage against the 49ers on Nov. 22, 2015.
He flat ran over San Francisco that day. His teammates sure approved:
Then he broke his ankle in December of that season, at Baltimore. He wasn’t right until September 2016. Two games into last season, he cracked his fibula. He didn’t play again until late November. After a 106-yard revival last December against Carolina he set the Seahawks’ postseason record with 161 yards rushing in the win over Detroit in the wild-card round of the playoffs. He seemed back. He entered this preseason as Seattle’s lead rusher.
But he got a high-ankle sprain in the first preseason game, Aug. 14 at the Los Angeles Chargers. He was out a month, through the opener at Green Bay Sept. 10.
In that time, Chris Carson happened. The rookie seventh-round draft choice wowed Carroll all preseason with his decisive running and ability to either make defenders miss him, or to just run them over. The wows Rawls used to provide. Carson was also a surprisingly adapt pass blocker and catcher. Carroll and the offense chose Carson to be the lead back for the start of the season.
Four games into his new job, Carson got a severe high-ankle sprain against Indianapolis on Oct. 1. He had surgery and is on injured reserve.
Carson wasn’t exactly lighting it up—208 yards in those four games. But for Seattle, he was Walter Payton-like. The other Seahawks running backs currently healthy—Rawls, Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic—have combined for 377 yards rushing. All season.
That’s one fewer yard than quarterback Russell Wilson has by himself.
The Seahawks’ running game right now is the quarterback scrambling away from free pass rushers on pass plays. And that’s it. That’s how he’s gained 342 of his team-leading 376 yards rushing.
Don’t be fooled by the Seahawks’ being ranked 17th in the league in rushing offense. That’s after 86 more yards of scrambling in the loss to Atlanta Monday. Without Wilson’s yards running for his life, Seattle would be dead last in rushing.
"The reality is that we’re not running our best right now. That’s the truth, right?" Wilson said. "We’re not running our best. The truth of it though is that we can be better. And that’s what we look forward to."
The Seahawks are looking forward to Rawls not trying to do so much, to ignore the fact his chances to impress this season have been few and far between. Wait for blocking to form. Make one, decisive cut instead of two or three skittish ones. Slow down. Trust.
But asking to trust in the lack of running lanes provided by the offensive line this season is a tall task, for the 5-foot-9 Rawls or anyone else.
Yes, it’s apparently going to be Rawls against the 49ers. Lacy has become a bit player, left to short-yardage tasks only. He is still on the roster perhaps only because he’s guaranteed $2,865,000 this season. McKissic is a third-down back, a converted wide receiver. Carson isn’t coming off IR until perhaps January, if at all. Same with C.J. Prosise.
Offensive-line coach and running-game coordinator Tom Cable talks to Rawls just about every day. His advice to him?
"Don’t try so damn hard,” Cable said.
Cable says "think about it," Rawls became “The Man” in 2015 succeeding Lynch. Then he broke his ankle, his first major football injury. He’s been in a hurry to prove himself ever since.
Rawls is aware some are whispering nagging injuries are holding him back this season. He stressed he is absolutely, fully healthy.
"I remain the same. And I always stay true," the native of rugged Flint, Michigan, said. "I continue to work. Continue to lead. I come out here with a smile on my face, regardless of situations or nothing like that.
"I know who I am."
What he is: a former lead back getting an opportunity this weekend to be one again.
"It’s all about opportunities for me, man," Rawls said. "There was a game this year I was only in one play—and I made it my best play. And I am grateful for that.
"I work so hard, man. I don’t beat myself about it. It’s just one of those things where the coaches, whenever they are ready to call on me, 34, I’m out there, man.
"I will always be that way.
"I say this with confidence," Rawls repeated," I know who I am."
EXTRA POINTS: Luke Joeckel practiced Wednesday for the first time since knee surgery last month. Cable said the team needs to see how Joeckel responds to that before determining if he will return to his starting left-guard spot Sunday. If he can, the Seahawks will be deciding between rookie Ethan Pocic or Mark Glowinski starting at right guard. Pocic, the second-round draft choice, has started at left guard in Joeckel’s absence. … Carroll, asked if the Seahawks have any doubts about Blair Walsh after the kicker missed three field goals in the three-point home loss to Washington and then missed the 52-yarder at the end of Monday’s game that would have sent it to overtime: "No. He is our guy."