Seattle Seahawks

Carroll dials back expectations for Rawls’ and Graham’s return

Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham leave the locker room before the Monday Night Football game against the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Oct. 5, 2015.
Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls and tight end Jimmy Graham leave the locker room before the Monday Night Football game against the Detroit Lions at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Oct. 5, 2015. Staff file, 2015

Wait, Pete Carroll tempering expectations?

Pete Carroll, Seattle’s Mr. Everlasting Enthusiasm, tempering anything?

Yes, 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 their always-positive coach feels he has to dial back some on all the sun.

Seattle’s coach began preparations for Sunday’s opener against the Miami Dolphins at CenturyLink Field by giving caveats and contradictions on the status of his new lead running back and star tight end.

“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.

“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 exhibitions last month. To expect more of his 160-yard rushing days from last season starting now is unrealistic.

Expect Rawls to start against Miami, but he likely is not ready just yet for the 20-plus carries per game he’s likely to get once he is fully back — until 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 additional carries, perhaps even in the double digits, in a more shared load with Rawls than Michael is likely to get in October and November.

Rawls sounded completely satisfied, if not a bit surprised, with getting back to game action last week in Oakland.

“I had no doubt in my mind I’d be back to this point,” he said. “I wasn’t sure when I would be back. But I just knew that every day if I worked hard, then at some point I would get back to getting back out here. And that is what happened.

“I am glad to be back.”

Graham hasn’t appeared in a game since he ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee Nov. 29. It’s been apparent since June’s side drills in minicamps that the tight end would return after Rawls did. Though he is full go in practices with the starting offense again, it has seemed a stretch to think Graham will start the opener 9 1/2 months after a tricky surgery and recovery on a relatively uncommon 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. Rookie third-round pick Nick Vannett will not play because of a high-ankle sprain.

Some of Carroll’s tempering on Rawls and Graham is realism. The team is still in the early stages of each starter’s comeback from major injuries.

And the side effect of creating doubt among the game-planning Dolphins on which Seahawks they are going to be defending at running back and tight end Sunday? Even better.

Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle

Seahawks’ next opponent


1:05 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field

Line: Seahawks by 10 1/2.

Against the Seahawks: Dolphins lead all-time series 8-3. The last meeting was in Florida in November 2012, Miami’s 24-21 win. This is the Dolphins’ first game in Seattle since 2004, the Seahawks’ only win in five meetings over the last 20 years. This is also the farthest in-continent road trip in the NFL: 2,723 miles from the Dolphins’ home stadium to CenturyLink Field. Miami is leaving on Thursday for Seattle, a day earlier than customary long NFL trips.

What to know: The Dolphins cleaned executive house this offseason and have a new regime: general manager Chris Grier, promoted from within and Adam Gase, 37, the NFL’s youngest head coach. Gase was Chicago’s offensive coordinator last season and Denver’s coordinator before that. … Ryan Tannehill is Miami’s incumbent quarterback. Last year he signed a $77 million, four-year deal with $45 million guaranteed, the base salaries of which start in 2017. Last season the fifth-year veteran threw for a career-high 4,208 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. … Slot receiver Jarvis Landry was second in the AFC and fourth in the NFL last season with 110 catches. Jeremy Lane will be the Seahawks’ main cover man on him. Miami is usually in three wideout sets, which will prompt Seattle to be in nickel defense often. … 30-year-old Arian Foster makes his first Miami start, and first since the four-time Pro Bowl running back with Houston tore his Achilles tendon in October. … $52 million center Mike Pouncey, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, may not play. He has a right hip injury. Gase says Pouncey is “day to day,” but the Dolphins are preparing Anthony Steen to start. Miami converted Steen, a former Alabama guard, to center this offseason. This would be Steen’s first NFL start and his first game. He entered the league in 2014 with Arizona. … No. 1 draft pick Laremy Tunsil is the Dolphins’ new starting left guard. … Cameron Wake, 34, will play at defensive end for the first time since rupturing his Achilles in October. But Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters in South Florida on Tuesday that Jason Jones, a starter with Detroit the last two seasons Miami signed to help what was the league’s 28th-ranked run defense last season, will start Sunday over Wake. Wake will be an outside rusher on passing downs. … Miami lost pass rusher Olivier Vernon to the New York Giants in free agency this spring but signed Mario Williams to get QBs. Williams will be making his Dolphins debut. His 96 sacks the last 10 years are third-most in the league in that span, behind DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen. … Former Seahawks starting cornerback Byron Maxwell is on his third team in three seasons. After one year — and a ton of cash — in Philadelphia, Maxwell makes his Miami debut against his former team. “I’m looking forward to seeing him smile,” Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor said.

Quotable: “When we went into that game, I think a lot of us felt like we were rolling at that time. Really, it was as close to a shutout as you can get. We got one (touchdown) late. Went back … You have to do a lot of soul searching at that point and reevaluate what you were doing and what went wrong and how you could’ve changed things.” — Gase, to South Florida reporters, about being Denver’s coordinator when the Seahawks crushed his Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl 48 three seasons ago.

Gregg Bell: