After being inactive against Atlanta, Thomas Rawls will get another shot in the Seattle backfield on Sunday at San Francisco.
Thomas Rawls showed up to CenturyLink Field Monday night thinking maybe this would be the game that would turn his season around.
He walked into the locker room and began putting his pads on to play the Falcons when he got word from the coaches that he didn’t need to bother — he was instead going to be among Seattle’s seven inactive players.
“It was a little unexpected,’’ Rawls said of the decision, which was the second time this season he had been inactive as a healthy player.
But it was also the latest sign that little has gone as planned this season for Rawls, as well as the entire Seahawks running game, with the team still struggling 11 weeks into the season to find any consistency in the backfield, either in personnel or production. Seattle ranks 17th in the NFL in rushing at 104.2 per game but that number is aided greatly by the 376 yards of quarterback Russell Wilson, which is 168 more than any of the team’s running backs.
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Rawls won’t have to worry about being inactive Sunday at San Francisco, though.
Mike Davis, who got the start against Atlanta, isn’t expected to be ready after suffering a groin injury in the third quarter, meaning that Seattle is going with the idea that its three running backs for the game will be Rawls, Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic.
As for who will start and who will get the most carries, offensive line coach and run game coordinator Tom Cable said that’s to be determined.
“We are going to give them all a chance,’’ Cable said.
That means Rawls will go from one week being told the team preferred to have three other running backs play instead of him to again being called to action.
Rawls said he tried to take the decision last week in stride but admitted that it also stung.
“We did what was best for the team and one thing we’ve got to continue to do is trust, and it’s hard in that fashion a little,’’ he said. “But I definitely went through with it.’’
The reality is, he has little choice.
But there was also a time two years ago when there figured to be little doubt that Rawls would be main man in the Seattle backfield.
In fact, it was two years ago this week — against the same 49ers team Seattle faces Sunday — that Rawls turned in a performance that appeared to indicate the Seahawks had found their successor to Marshawn Lynch, rushing for 209 yards, second-most in team history and a rookie record.
He had 81 and 101 the next two weeks against the Steelers and Vikings before Rawls suffered a broken ankle at Baltimore. Still, he ended his season with 830 yards and an NFL-best average of 5.6 yards per carry, a star seemingly having been born.
But little has gone right since as the injury meant Rawls had little preseason time in 2016 which may have led to getting hurt again early in the season. He played just nine games in 2016 with 349 yards and a 3.2 average, though there was one highlight — a franchise record 161 yards in the wild card win over Detroit.
But heading into the 2017 season Seattle signed Lacy to compete with Rawls and drafted Chris Carson to assure it had enough depth, and then Rawls suffered an ankle injury in camp. Injuries to Carson and Lacy have given Rawls chances to retake the job and run with it, but he hasn’t been able to, gaining just 125 yards on 49 carries this season. Rushing for just 27 yards on 10 carries at Arizona helped lead to Seattle’s decision to activate Davis and give him a shot at taking the job against Atlanta.
Cable said he has simple advice for Rawls this week as he again gets another chance: “Don’t try so damn hard. You just see it all the time, when guys are trying to make a statement or guys are trying to stake a claim to something, sometimes they kind of overstep on the gas, if you will. And he just needs to relax and be Tommy and play ball.’’
Cable said what he specifically wants Rawls to do is get back to keeping it simple — seeing the hole and making one cut and taking off.
“I tell him all the time, ‘you get one cut. You don’t get three. You get one,’’’ Cable said. “It’s just him taking a breath, staying in the moment, don’t try to do too much. You are not going to become a 1,000-yard runner on one run.’’
Cable thinks that’s maybe been the problem, that Rawls has been trying to live up to both what he did as a rookie and to the legacy of Lynch.
“I think looking back you think about, put yourself in his shoes,’’ Cable said. “A couple of years ago he’s as hot as it gets, he’s playing and he’s racing toward 1,000 yards and then he has a horrible leg fracture. And I think ever since then, coming back and the departure of Marshawn, watching it I felt like he thought that ‘hey, I have to be the guy now. I have to take over.’ And I think unfortunately for him and for us he’s just trying too darn hard. And you watch him two years ago he’s kind of a consistent, calm, explosive guy and he’s not trying to force anything and we’re still trying to get him back there.’’
Rawls insisted Wednesday he’s still the same guy.
He also knows he has to think about the future — he can be a restricted free agent at the end of the season with zero guarantees he’ll be back in Seattle and more uncertainty than ever that the big payday that seemed in the offing during his rookie season will come his way.
“I think a lot of guys worry about their future,’’ he said. “But I’m not too worried because like I always say, and I say this with confidence, I know who I am and I never give up and I’m going to continue to be me and keep working hard. Nothing can get me down.’’