RENTON, Wash. — Thomas Rawls still smiles. He still talks of his determination and desire to help his team improve and ultimately win.
But it hasn’t been an easy first month of the season for the Seattle Seahawks running back. He’s been in the middle of a backfield rotation that’s proven more challenging to balance than first expected.
Rawls has gone from being the presumptive starter before the season began, to being slowed by yet another injury, to suddenly being a healthy inactive last week when the Seahawks thumped the Colts.
And now, he’s back in a prominent role with perhaps a chance to claim his place again as Seattle’s primary ball carrier.
With rookie Chris Carson now on injured reserve because of an ankle injury suffered last week that required surgery, it’s now Rawls’ opportunity to reclaim a spot he first earned two years ago as a rookie and has struggled to keep since.
“It’s part of the game and all you can do is control what you can control,” Rawls said. “Just come out and practice hard and work hard and continue to be a leader and whenever you get these opportunities they’re so valuable because you just never know how long you’ll play this game and I’m grateful of that.”
Rawls will be back in the rotation along with Eddie Lacy, J.D. McKissic and possibly C.J. Prosise for Sunday’s NFC West showdown with the improved Los Angeles Rams.
So far nothing has come easy this season for Rawls or much of Seattle’s run game.
Rawls has only been active for two of the four games, missing the opener in Green Bay while still recovering from a sprained ankle in training camp. He’s carried the ball five times for all of 4 yards in the two games he was active and then was unexpectedly scratched last week.
“I didn’t go into an attitude or funk or anything like that. It was just one of those things where it’s a business decision and I’m OK with that,” Rawls said.
“I don’t come before this team, I don’t come before this organization. I stay in my place and that’s a players place, and whenever I touch the field, when No. 34 is out there, I’m out there. If I’m not, I’m not. But you’re going to know if I’m out there because I’ll be out there having fun and working hard for my team.”
It’s been a trying three seasons for Rawls. He burst onto the scene in 2015 as an undrafted rookie stepping in when Marshawn Lynch was injured and electrified Seattle’s run game.
Rawls was averaging 5.6 yards per carry and had 870 yards when injuries first started derailing his burgeoning career. Rawls suffered a serious broken ankle late in the 2015 season.
He spent the entire offseason recovering, then two games into the 2016 season — in Los Angeles against the Rams — suffered a lower leg fracture that sidelined him another seven games.
Rawls had two big games when he returned late last season, including a franchise playoff record with 161 yards in a wild-card round win over Detroit.
“We haven’t seen him in a while,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We really haven’t had a chance to see him on a regular basis. This is kind of a chance for him to re-enter. I’m really excited for him.”
Seattle is likely to spread the carries around against the Rams. Lacy is coming off his best game with 52 yards on just 11 carries. And McKissic flashed speed that’s been missing from the run game with his 30-yard TD.
“I’m not sure how I felt a couple of years ago,” Rawls said. “I feel good today.”