This Seahawks team will absolutely be different from the one that produced that forgettable dud in Tampa Bay.
We’ll find out Sunday night if it is a better one.
Michael Bennett is playing Sunday night against Carolina at CenturyLink Field, for the first time in six games. Four other starters also are returning from injuries to play for the Seahawks (7-3-1) against the Panthers (4-7): safety Earl Thomas, center Justin Britt, cornerback DeShawn Shead and strongside linebacker Mike Morgan (coming off injured reserve). Same with backup running back Troymaine Pope. Pope missed one game with a high-ankle sprain.
Seattle listed Bennett, its Pro Bowl defensive end, as questionable for Sunday’s showcase game against the Carolina Panthers (4-7) at CenturyLink Field. Then coach Pete Carroll jokingly remarked following Friday’s practice that Bennett was “highly questionable, and he also has some injury issues.”
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Injuries are almost always Topics A, B and C on Fridays because it’s when the injury report for the Sunday games come out — and because Friday is the first time in three practices that reporters get to ask questions of Seattle’s coach.
No matter, Bennett’s going to play Sunday.
So will Thomas. He, in particular, will be a huge boost. Steven Terrell did fine filling in at free safety last weekend. But Thomas is, of course, a three-time All-Pro regarded as perhaps the best at his position. He has played 118 out of a possible 119 games — all starts — since the Seahawks drafted him in the first round in 2010.
“He did great (this week while practicing fully),” Carroll said. “He was able to do everything to show that he is ready to play.
“DeShawn Shead, too.”
On Thursday, though, Thomas said about his strained hamstring: “I’m just still battling right now. I really don’t like to talk about it because I know what’s ahead of me (to be able to play for the rest of this season). Hopefully, you know, we’ll see.”
The Seahawks lost, 14-5, without all those starters last weekend at Tampa Bay.
Thomas Rawls wasn’t quite himself against the Buccaneers, Carroll said. The lead running back had 38 yards on 12 carries and slipped multiple times on Tampa’s grass field trying to cut quickly behind zone blocks. He still was getting over getting “stoved up,” Carroll’s words, in a battering return against Philadelphia two weeks ago. Rawls had missed two months with a cracked fibula.
Could his healing mean the Seahawks will finally get their 27th-ranked rushing offense in a gear other than neutral or first? Rawls has just 120 yards on 45 carries (a 2.7-yard average) in four games this season.
“Thomas had his best … he truly had his best week,” Carroll said. “I’m really excited about that.
“I told you that it was a heavy load for him coming out of that (Eagles) game, and you could see it last week. He shows no signs at all. He looks like he’s ready to go and that’s a real good thought for us, we like that.
“Yeah, it does feel good to have guys coming back,” Carroll said.
“It feels good. These guys are pumped up and looking forward to it.”
CARROLL ON McKNIGHT’S DEATH
Carroll said he feels an “extra connection” to Joe McKnight’s death because the Seahawks coach tried to assist his former USC running back last month.
McKnight, 28, played for Carroll with the Trojans through the 2009 season. He was shot and killed Thursday along a highway outside New Orleans in an incident of road rage.
“This is a real tragedy for a young man that all of us that knew Joey and brought him on, you know, when we recruited him and had him through the program and all the things that we did together,” Carroll said with more than a little emotion following the Seahawks’ practice Friday for Sunday’s game against Carolina.
The coach recruited McKnight out of John Curtis High School in River Ridge, Louisiana, when he was one of the nation’s top high school players.
“He was a very special kid, and he had some special difficulties coming along growing up. And we all knew about it. And we just regarded the guy that he was knowing the course that he went,” Carroll said. “He had to travel, and so for Joe to end up ... for us to lose Joe, it just hurts everybody.
“I talked to a lot of people and heard from all kinds of people and everybody felt the exact same way. They just felt so bad because he had a great heart. He was a great kid. He was fun to be around, fun-loving. But, you just knew he had a lot of stuff to overcome. And he was making it, and he was overcoming stuff, And he had a bit of a pro career and all that. And unfortunately, you know, this happened, so we’re going to miss him greatly. Miss him greatly.
“I talked to Joey not three weeks ago and ... trying to help him with something ... and just felt terrible with this news that I wasn’t able to do something that might have kept him in California. You know, he was in Pasadena at the time, and this personally hit me that I wasn’t able to do something that might have made a difference and keep him away from where he was.”
The New York Jets drafted McKnight in the fourth round in 2010. He played in the NFL for the Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, and in the Canadian Football League with Edmonton and Saskatchewan.
“I know a couple of the guys that I heard from were also working with Joe and doing some stuff with him to try to help him with a job and things like that that he was looking forward to,” Carroll said. “And just none of us were able to pull it off, so I just feel a little extra connection to it.”
Ronald Gasser, 54, remained at the scene of Thursday’s shooting and was taken into custody in Terrytown, Louisiana. On Friday, police released Gasser because he had not been formally charged. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department told USA Today, “This matter remains under investigation.”
The sheriff there released a statement Friday saying Gasser fired three rounds through an open window of an automobile and that all three rounds struck McKnight, who authorities say was out of his Audi Q7 and “positioned at the passenger window” of Gasser’s Infiniti coupe.
The Seahawks list TE Luke Willson (knee) and DL Damontre Moore (foot) as questionable. Carroll said Moore has a chance to play and will be a game-time decision. ... RB C.J. Prosise (broken shoulder blade), WR Paul Richardson (hamstring), LB Brock Coyle (foot) and LB Jordan Tripp (deep quadriceps bruise) are out for Sunday’s game.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle