How will the Seahawks split up carries between Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael remains one of the major questions of the season. Coach Pete Carroll, though, isn't giving much away yet.
As the regular season nears, one of the more intriguing questions facing the Seahawks is how the team will divvy up the carries between Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael.
It’s a question that has obvious implications for fantasy players, who hadn’t had to think much when it came to Seattle running backs the last few years — just take Marshawn Lynch if you can and don’t worry about anyone else.
But now it’s a tougher decision due to the fact Rawls is coming off an injury (dislocated ankle last Dec. 13) and Michael has emerged as a viable complement.
Coach Pete Carroll said a few times during the preseason that there will be a role for Michael regardless, at one point saying he could see them being a “1-2 punch.”
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But it’s always been expected Rawls will be the number one back once fully healthy and ready to go.
Rawls is now healthy. But Carroll implied Monday that the team may still have a plan for easing him in some as he returns to full action — he had just two carries in the preseason, both in the last game at Oakland on Thursday — and won’t necessarily give him a maximum workload right out of the gate when the Seahawks play Miami Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“Just progress, just make progress with him,” Carroll said. “I don’t want to rush him — this is his second preseason game in a sense. So we’ll see how he does. I’d love for him to carry the ball quite a bit in this game and then we’ll know where we stand going into next week. It’s just really bringing him along properly and carefully. We want to make sure we take care of him.”
That may not clear things up as much as fantasy owners might like.
But while the first week or so has the obvious complication of Rawls’ health to consider, harder to know is how things will develop once the team decides they no longer need to bring him along carefully.
Will it be like past years when Lynch took most of the carries or will Michael still get significant work? The answer — as boring as it sounds — is that how Michael plays the first few weeks will likely dictate things greatly. If he continues to play as he did in the preseason then the Seahawks will have to find ways to get him out there. But if Rawls is clearly the better of the two, then there’d be no reason not to hand him the ball as often as possible.
The Seahawks also have rookies C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins on the roster at tailback. But Prosise seems headed initially for a role mostly as a third-down back. And Collins is clearly the last of the tailbacks and could well be inactive on gamedays depending on how vital the team thinks his special team role is (as Michael often was in 2013 and 2014. Trends from last year aren’t really applicable given all the injuries at the tailback spot throughout).
All of which means it’s hard to know yet if Rawls will dominate the carries the way Lynch did when healthy.
During his four full seasons as a Seahawk when he was healthy — 2011 to 2014 — Lynch had at least 162 more carries than anyone else in each season (the narrowest margin came in 2014 when Lynch had 280 carries and Russell Wilson 118 in the season when Wilson had one of the best rushing years ever for a quarterback with 849 yards. Wilson’s carries dropped a little bit to 103 last season).
Seattle tailbacks typically averaged around 24 carries a game during Lynch’s seasons with the Seahawks, with Lynch averaging a full-season high of 19.6 per game in 2012 and a low of 17.4 per game in 2014 (Rawls essentially had six full games as Seattle’s tailback last season and intriguingly averaged 21 carries per game with a high of 30 against the 49ers when he fished for 209 yards).
Will Rawls take over that kind of tailback-carry dominance? We may need a few weeks to find out.