RENTON We don’t need you.
We don’t need you.
We need you back.
That is essentially what the Seahawks have done and said to Thomas Rawls the last three weeks.
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Two games ago at Tennessee, the Seahawks put their lead back entering this preseason in for just one snap of the 73 plays they ran in a 33-27 loss to the Titans. Last weekend at home against Indianapolis, the Seahawks didn’t even have Rawls in uniform. An assistant coach told him before pregame warmups the team left put him on its game-day inactive list; he was a healthy scratch for the first time in his three-year career. Rawls watched in sweats from the sideline as rookie Chris Carson again was Seattle’s featured runner instead.
“I was a little surprised,” Rawls said this week.
Suddenly the Seahawks need Rawls. And in a big way, for this Sunday’s test at the Los Angeles Rams for the early lead in the NFC West.
Logic says Rawls is ticked at being inactive, and at having five carries through four games this season, that he will run angry in L.A.
Yet this week he made it sound like he will run appreciative. He was nothing but positive, understanding and team-first in talking about going from lead back in August to injured with his own high-ankle sprain into mid-September to being a healthy scratch--to lead back again for this weekend.
“I didn’t go into an attitude or funk or anything like that. It’s just one of those things where we had...it’s a business decision,” he said. “And I’m OK with that.
“I don’t come before this team. I don’t come before this organization. I stay in my place--and that’s a player’s place. When I touch the field, whenever 34’s out there I’m out there. If I’m not, I’m not.
“But you will know when I am out there, because I will be out there having fun and working hard for my team.”
That work so far has yielded just those 5 carries for 4 yards, all in the second game of the season. That was the home win over San Francisco. Rawls was still recovering from the ankle when he missed the opening loss Sept. 10 at Green Bay. He had that one-snap cameo last month in which all he did was go in motion as a decoy away from the play in Tennessee. Then came his cheerleading in street clothes last weekend.
“I still knew I had to be on the sidelines and cheer on my teammates to get the W,” he said. “I may not have been out there, but I feel like my little pinch of salt helped some guys out. So I feel like I helped out, too.”
How much can he help in Los Angeles, on the field? He’ll get his chance. Finally.
Rawls and Eddie Lacy, coming off 11 carries and 52 yards in his best and most extensive work yet for Seattle, will get the bulk of the running plays. J.D. McKissic likely will replace still-injured C.J. Prosise again as the third-down back.
Assistant head coach Tom Cable is close with Seattle’s running backs, coordinating them with the offensive linemen he coaches; he calls Rawls “Tommy.” When Rawls was coming back from his injury to make his season debut in week two against the 49ers, Cable said he was looking forward to Rawls’ “violence.”
Instead, Rawls vanished.
I asked Cable Thursday how Rawls is handling his demotion to inactive last week.
“Well, I hope OK,” Cable said.
“I think when you are in a situation in the NFL when you have this kind of depth you can’t dress everybody you’d like to. But there are rules on Sunday, and you have to do what’s best for the team in regards to special teams, defense or whatever the need is.”
Cable nails the true reason Rawls, and Lacy two weeks before him, have been healthy inactives already this season. When Carson was running so impressively and decisively to earn the lead-back role, the two veterans who were supposed to be 1 and 1A in the backfield this season weren’t otherwise useful to the Seahawks because neither plays special teams.
But now that Carson is out for perhaps the entire season, Rawls and Lacy are not just useful for the offense. They are needed.
For Rawls, it’s his fourth chance to seize the lead back role. That includes when he broke out as an undrafted rookie in 2015 and led the NFL in yards per rush filling in for injured Marshawn Lynch.
He broke his ankle in December 2015 and wasn’t fully back until September 2016. In his second game back, against the Rams in L.A., he cracked his fibula. He missed the next seven games. This August he was ahead of Lacy and Carson and everyone else as the featured runner, then got the high-ankle sprain after two carries in the preseason opener.
“We haven’t seen him in a while. We really haven’t had a chance to see him on a regular basis,” coach Pete Carroll said. “This is kind of a chance for him to re-enter.
“I’m really excited for him. He is in good shape. He’s worked out hard. There was no reason he couldn’t play. We just played Chris a lot, and you saw us flip it around with Eddie (being healthy but inactive against San Francisco) a couple weeks ago. But now he and Eddie are going to take the load.
“We are so fortunate to have Thomas in the lineup--so I’m expecting,” Carroll said. “He is all fired up about it. He is healthy and he is real anxious. I just can’t wait to get him out there.”
“He’s raring to go now, so we are in good shape.”
Offensive coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell wants to establish the run Sunday, in particular, to slow down Aaron Donald and a Rams pass rush that has 39 sacks in 10 games against Russell Wilson. That’s the most times Seattle’s quarterback has gone down to any foe in his career. These Rams have allowed 151.5 yards rushing per game through four weeks. That’s the third-worst run defense in the league.
Bevell needs Rawls to be the 2015 version.
Rawls needs Rawls to be the 2015 version, too. His rookie contract ends after this season. If he wants a new one with Seattle, or a second, bigger-money deal with guarantees anywhere, the contract for which all football players sacrifice their livelihoods, he’s got the next 12 regular-games to earn it.
“We’re excited to have him back up and see him,” Bevell said. “We’ve talked all the time about the dimension that he brings to us. He just brings kind of that tenacity that we’re looking for, that kind of nastiness that we want to be part of our offense. And we’ll see if we can get that from him.”
Rawls is usually feisty and hyper on the field, dancing and jumping and slapping teammates on the back before slamming into and off of opponents on bullish runs. He’s so amped, he doesn’t seem to need extra motivation to play.
But does he have that to play in this one, a week after his team wouldn’t even let him put on his uniform?
“I think just being me, I come with enough motivation,” he said. “I know who I am. I think that’s all the motivation that I need.”
“If I’m suited up this week, I’ll be able to contribute as much as possible for the team.”