RENTON Pete Carroll has done everything to show Thomas Rawls is ready to return to game action from his broken ankle -- except play him in a game.
That may happen Thursday night.
The Seahawks’ coach hinted following a walk-through practice before the team left for Oakland that his lead running back who’s been out from game action since Dec. 13 may play in the preseason finale against the Raiders.
“There’s no question that he looks to be able to play in the opener,” Carroll said Wednesday of Sept. 11 against Miami.
Asked if Rawls would get any carries in Thursday’s exhibition at Oakland, as general manager John Schneider had mentioned this month would be nice before the real season, Carroll gave one of his usual coy grins and head nods and said: “Guess you are going to have to wait and find out.”
That doesn’t mean the replacement for retired Marshawn Lynch as Seattle’s featured runner would carry the ball against the Raiders. The Seahawks don’t need Rawls to prove he can run, especially not in a preseason game. Last season he became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for 160-plus yards in two different games. Plus, Thursday’s exhibition is on the part-dirt field of the Coliseum in Oakland; the Raiders are now the only NFL team to share its home with a baseball team, in their case the Athletics. No reason for Rawls to be instinctively making cuts on that ankle off any of that dirt trying to evade tacklers.
Yet Carroll detailed Wednesday his belief there’s merit in starters getting into a “rhythm” of being full go pregame warmups then playing in a game before the regular season.
“It is important for them to get their rhythm and stay with their rhythm. They get in the rhythm of the preparation process and that’s why we like our starters to play,” Carroll said.
So, according to that, Thursday won’t completely be Starters’ Vacation Night. At least not until after most make a token appearance.
“They get the benefit of another week, they get their mind right and they go out and play football and then the coaches take them out,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot to be said about that process, and so we want respect that and see if we can get one step closer to the best we can be for the regular season.”
One starter unlikely to be in uniform is Michael Bennett. The Pro Bowl defensive end missed his third consecutive practice Wednesday while in Southern California for treatment and likely an injection on his troublesome big toe. He had the same treatment during a game week in December and still played, and, as Carroll noted, this treatment regimen has become routine for the 30-year old. So, no, the Seahawks are not concerned.
“Yeah, Mike’s been doing this procedure for years. It just takes a few days to get it done,” Carroll said. “He used to get it done in Carolina; he’s getting it done in California now. Everything is right on schedule.”
Jimmy Graham is also on schedule in his return from a ruptured patellar tendon on Nov. 29. The tight end was “full go” with the starting offense all this week in practices.
“We’re thrilled about it. He is, too,” Carroll said, just before Graham walked by clapping enthusiastically at his coach. “He had a full week of practice. He’ll have another full week of practice, and we’ll just keep taking it day to day. It’s really a day-to-day thing to see how he recovers. But he’s doing great. And we’ll see what that means. We won’t know until late next week.”
I asked the coach what the chances were that Graham plays in the opener against the tight end’s hometown Dolphins. He didn’t exactly want to answer that.
Carroll shrugged three times, raised his eyes and eye brows, grinned and said, “Chances?” (see the 1:30 mark of the video above).
There is just one starting position still to be determined entering Thursday’s exhibition. Garry Gilliam and J’Marcus Webb are likely to continue alternating at right tackle with the first-team offense as they have in practice all week, with Gilliam first and Webb second. Webb lost two weeks and his starting job there because of a sprained knee and has been wearing a brace on it since.
Meanwhile, Bradley Sowell has won the left-tackle job. And veteran Mike Morgan has seemingly won the job to replace now-Raider Bruce Irvin as the starting strong-side linebacker. Seahawks coaches love how Morgan is always in the right place and knows every assignment. He should: He’s been in Carroll’s defense for the last 10 years, back to when Carroll recruited Morgan to play for him at USC.
Thursday will also be important for rookies such as running backs C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins. Prosise, the third-round pick, missed more than half of August with a hamstring strain. Coaches want to see him play more before they give him the job of third-down back and pass catcher. Collins, the fifth-round pick, had a strong training camp then tailed off in the first preseason games with assignment mistakes such as pass blocking and running decisively in short-yardage situations.
I wrote in Thursday’s News Tribune why Thursday is important for Tyvis Powell, the safety, cornerback and special-teams candidate from Ohio State. Yet the more I see of Powell the more I think he will be on the team after Saturday’s cuts down to the 53-man roster limit for the regular season.
“Instead of counting the days, I try to make the days count,” Powell told me.
"I’m going to give it my best. And, hopefully I’m still here on Monday."
His fellow undrafted rookie with a chance to make the team, Tanner McEvoy, “could” play Thursday, Carroll said. The 6-foot-5 1/2 McEvoy was an impressive wide receiver this month, then moved to tight end when rookie Nick Vannett got a high-ankle sprain. McEvoy strained his groin in last week’s preseason win over Dallas and missed two practices before returning Tuesday. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the team needs to see McEvoy block more to decide if he is a viable tight end.
Carroll sounded optimistic rookie second-round pick Jarran Reed (toe) could return to practice next week in time to play in the opener. The coach didn’t sound as positive about Vannett getting back for the opener, making it even more likely Brandon Williams will make the team as a fourth tight end.
BUFFALO CLAIMS LEWIS
The league’s official transactions for Wednesday showed Buffalo claimed Patrick Lewis one day after Seattle waived its starting center for the latter half of the 2015 season.
Running back George Farmer, defensive back Trovon Reed, former Washington Huskies wide receiver Kevin Smith and ex-UW defensive end Josh Shirley all cleared waivers and went on Seattle’s injured-reserve list.