With two 100-yard rushing days in three Seattle Seahawks games since Marshawn Lynch got hurt, Thomas Rawls is producing like a full-time lead running back.
Heck, some have even already anointed him a nickname befitting a star: “Rawls Royce.” That was during and after his 169 yards rushing last weekend at Cincinnati.
The undrafted, out-of-nowhere rookie already has the team-first, deferring-credit parts of that primary role down, too.
When asked following Seattle’s 27-24 loss at the undefeated Bengals on Sunday if he knew why he wasn’t on the field for the start of overtime on a day he rushed for the most yards by a Seahawk in eight years, Rawls shrugged.
“It’s not about me,” he said.
Now suddenly, it’s even less about him.
The Seahawks expect Lynch to return to practice Thursday from his strained hamstring. He hasn’t practiced fully since Sept. 18, the Friday before the Seahawks’ second game at Green Bay. Coach Pete Carroll expects him to start when Seattle (2-3) hosts Carolina (4-0) Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
So with the bullish, five-time Pro Bowl runner and foundation of the Seahawks’ offense coming back, how much more time will Rawls get than he did before Lynch got hurt?
“Normally, Marshawn comes in and out pretty regularly,” Carroll said. “So we’ll just pump (Rawls) in there and see how many carries that amounts to.
“Usually, it’s about eight or 10 carries on a regular game. We’ll see how that goes.”
Sounds like it will go maybe eight to 10 times better for Rawls than it was at the start of the season.
He was an 1,103-yard rusher with 10 touchdowns in nine games last college season, his only one at Central Michigan. Carroll championed Rawls more than anyone else in the Seahawks’ organization this spring. He called him within minutes of May’s draft ending to offer him a free-agent contract. His impressive preseason of plowing through defenders and inflicting more pain on them than they did on him led Seattle to trade former second-round pick Christine Michael to Dallas and send Robert Turbin away on an injury-settlement at the beginning of September.
But Rawls had a grand total of two carries through two NFL games. He had exactly zero in the 27-17 loss at Green Bay in Week 2. He was, after all, behind Lynch, who leads the NFL with 5,485 yards rushing and 56 total touchdowns since 2011.
Then Lynch missed the first 12 minutes of the home game against Chicago trying to get his sore leg loose. He missed the final two quarters that day after he hurt his hamstring catching a fourth-down pass late in the second quarter Sept. 26
Rawls has mostly rolled since. He had 104 yards on 16 carries against the Bears in a 26-0 win. The Lions slowed him to 48 yards on 17 rushes two weeks ago before Rawls victimized the Bengals for the most yards by a Seattle back since Shaun Alexander’s 201 in a Seattle snowstorm against Green Bay in 2007.
Yet “Rawls Royce” appears headed mostly back to the sideline garage in supporting role for Lynch. And he’s OK with that.
Actually, Rawls sounds OK with everything — as a rookie who was just happy to be on the team this time last month should.
“I trust the process,” Rawls said.
“I trust the whole organization. Just trying to help this team, be as perfect as I can for this team.
“I trust my instincts. And I trust those big boys up front.”
Rawls looked like the faster, younger version of Lynch he is on his 69-yard touchdown run in the third quarter Sunday at Cincinnati.
It was a zone-read run, the kind Lynch has perfected. Rawls got the ball out of I formation behind fullback Derrick Coleman. The play began to the right behind tackle Garry Gilliam. The left side of the Seahawks’ line — tackle Russell Okung and guard Justin Britt — pushed Bengals across the formation to the right. Rawls saw that and immediately stepped counter to the flow, hard to the left with a Lynch-like, one-step cut.
At about the Seattle 45 he turned sharply left again, behind the block of wide receiver Jermaine Kearse on Cincinnati’s Adam Jones. Rawls then sprinted past three smaller Bengals defensive backs, something a 5-foot-9, 215-pound running back should not be able to do.
Asked about the touchdown that put Seattle ahead 17-7, Rawls thanked almost half his offense.
“I saw the flow. I saw Okung. I saw Britt. I saw Gilliam. I saw everything flow down,” Rawls said. “They did a great job sealing the end. I cut back. And also Jermaine Kearse did a great job blocking along the left side. And I got a chance to take it the distance.
“We did improve.”
And that bulling through the weak arm tackle try by Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson at about the 20-yard line? That was positively Lynch-ian.
“Just keeping my knees high,” Rawls said, shrugging off the question.
No one is pushing Lynch out the doors of Seahawks headquarters. But the evidence is mounting that Seattle has a potential — eventual — replacement for the 29-year-old Lynch who is young (Rawls just turned 22 in August) and inexpensive (base salary: $435,000, the league minimum for a players with zero years of previous service time).
Just the way the Seahawks love ’em.
“We’re going to feel real comfortable about him in the two (backup) spot, coming in off the bench,” Carroll said. “There’s no reason for him not to play. He’s done a great job for us.
“And I would say he’s probably exceeded our expectations at this point.”
SEAHAWKS’ NEXT OPPONENT
CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-0)
1:05 p.m. Sunday, CenturyLink Field
Against the Seahawks: Seattle leads the series 5-2, plus is 2-0 against the Panthers in the postseason. That includes the most recent meeting, the Seahawks’ 31-17 win in the divisional playoffs in January. This is the fifth meeting since 2012. The Seahawks have played Carolina more than any other non-division team in that span. And the last three regular-season matchups have been slogs: 16-12, 12-7 and 13-9 wins for Seattle. The Panthers have not won in four games — two in the playoffs — in Seattle.
What to know: This is Carolina’s second 4-0 start. Its first one was in 2003, a season that ended in the Super Bowl. … Since the current playoff format began in 1990, 59 of 71 teams (83 percent) that have started 4-0 have made the playoffs. … Carolina, which is coming off its bye, hasn’t exactly knocked off behemoths, though. Its victories are against Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Houston and Jacksonville. … Two-time All-Pro MLB Luke Kuechly was cleared to practice fully Tuesday for the first time since getting a concussion in the opener. He’s expected to play Sunday for the first time in more than a month. … CB Josh Norman is having a career season so far: four interceptions in four games. He was the NFC’s defensive player of the month in September, then its defensive player of the week to begin October. He’s returned two interceptions for touchdowns. … Carolina is fourth in the NFL in points allowed per game (17.8) and third in yards allowed per play (4.7). … Cam Newton is taking care of the ball, with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. He hasn’t thrown fewer than 12 INTs in any of his previous four seasons. … He is also running 11 times per game, more than he ever has. … Carolina is fourth in the league at 132.3 yards rushing per game. Jonathan Stewart of Timberline High School in Lacey is still leading Carolina with 220 yards rushing. Newton is right behind him with 195. … Newton is 0-3 against the Seahawks, the only team he’s played three or more times and not defeated. He’s completed 54 percent of his throws against Seattle for just 146 yards passing per game, with one touchdown total and one interception.
Quotable: “You know what’s ironic? In my opinion they’re as good or better (than in recent years). “(Sunday) was a tough day. Cincinnati just hung in there. If you turned the game off at the start of the fourth quarter, you’re saying that’s as good a defense as you’ve seen play, especially against Cincinnati the way they’ve been moving it. Then Cincinnati made some plays. There were some near misses on both sides and they ended up making the plays to win the game. We all know they’re good, and they’re even better at home. That’s going to be a huge challenge.” — Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula on the Seahawks, to the Charlotte Observer.