Thomas Rawls seemed to be in a good mood Friday afternoon, although it’s hard to tell because I’ve yet to hear the Seahawks running back talk in a key other than jubilant.
When Rawls enters a room, he doesn’t merely light it up. He turns the place into a revival tent.
So it was no surprise that following the Seahawks’ final organized team activity, Rawls smiled when the name of new teammate Eddie Lacy was brought up. Lacy, once a workhorse running back with the Packers, was signed as a free agent with the idea of reprising a similar role in Seattle.
Most players would interpret such an acquisition as either a kick in the butt or a slap in the face, but then, most players don’t see football as Rawls does.
“There’s a lot of people in the backfield, it’s about competition in that way,” he said. “If there’s a depth chart with three selected players, I look at it as Thomas Rawls, Thomas Rawls and Thomas Rawls.
“I’ve always been in competition with myself, and I believe this program — this whole organization — will involve a lot of different players with a mindset of competition who truly earn what they deserve. In the end, whatever the result, it’ll work itself out.”
Rawls is only 23, but between a checkered college career — he transferred from Michigan to Central Michigan, where as a senior he was sidelined by a suspension — and two injury-shortened seasons with the Seahawks, he’s been through enough ups and downs to qualify as a veteran observer of the world.
What he hasn’t been through, since high school, is a full football schedule.
If the OTAs are any indication — and let’s face it, they’re the only indication we’ve got — Rawls appears determined to finally enjoy a career year that won’t be truncated by a fracture.
He’s working at full speed, all the time.
“Every practice, no matter if we’re on the other side of the field, on the 20-yard line, I gotta go 80 yards,” he said. “I try to run past the end zone, try to finish, try to be different. It’s in my DNA to be uncommon in a lot of different ways.
“I feel like I’m an uncommon person — an uncommon man — and feel that’s because of my mindset. It’s different for a lot of people. That’s what separates the good players from the great players.”
As a rookie in 2015, one of those undrafted free agents Seahawks general manager John Schneider typically rescues from obscurity, Rawls led the league in yards after contact. He’d scored a roster spot as backup to Marshawn Lynch, who’d built a Hall-of-Fame candidacy on his penchant for picking up yards after contact, and when Lynch succumbed to a variety of aches and pains, Rawls took the ball and ran with it.
Last season was more of a mixed bag. Behind a patchwork offensive line that struggled to clear space for a besieged crew of running backs — 18 different players carried the ball at least once — Rawls broke his fibia in September.
He came back to rush for 161 yards against Detroit in the wild-card game — a franchise-playoff record — but Rawls’ inspired performance still posits him as the presumed backup to Lacy.
The anticipated return of running back C.J. Prosise as a pass-catching threat on third down further limits Rawls’ reps. Toward that end, Rawls worked out in Florida during the offseason, honing his own receiver skills.
“I want to be an every-down back, not just a running back,” he said. “I know we’ve got other guys in the backfield who can also catch the ball, and competition is all over the board. But at the end of the day, I’m competing with myself.
“One thing I love is staying true. Staying true means staying true to myself, my morals and values, and understanding where I’ve come from, and who I am, and everything I’ve done to get to this point. I don’t need to do anything more or anything less. I just need to be Thomas Rawls, and continue to hold my own legacy.”
When the Seahawks open their 2017 regular season at Green Bay, it’s possible the running back depth chart could read Lacy, Prosise and Rawls.
Third team? Rawls won’t be fazed by such a minor distraction. His place on the depth chart will represent the Holy Trinity of athletic competitors: Me, myself and I, and that thing do we because of the way DNA wired us.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath