Thomas Rawls and Jimmy Graham are on different paths back to the Seahawks’ starting lineup.
Rawls seems to be nearing the end of his.
Graham is not. His coach raised for the first time on Wednesday the possibility that the key tight end won’t be ready for the start of the regular season.
Rawls practiced this week with the first-team offense for the first time since Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch replacement broke his ankle Dec. 13. Though he will not play in Thursday’s second preseason game, at home against Minnesota, Rawls could appear in one of the team’s final two exhibitions, Aug. 25 against Dallas or Sept. 1 at Oakland.
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“Thomas got to take some reps in practice. He’ll have a really solid week next week, if all goes well,” coach Pete Carroll said following Wednesday’s walk-through practice. It was indoors to get the players used to synthetic grass similar to CenturyLink Field’s playing surface.
“We’ll see what that means in terms of playing, but we’re not going to rush (Rawls) at all. But he looked good. That was great to see.”
Carroll was less effusive about Graham.
After saying at the end of the offseason the Seahawks were “kind of counting on” Graham being ready for the start of the regular season, Carroll mentioned it’s possible he may not be ready when the games get real 3 1/2 weeks from now.
“Well, he’s making progress. We’ve had no issues at all,” the Seattle coach said one week after Graham came off the physically unable to perform list for limited practicing in position and catching drills.
Since then, Graham has not participated in any team scrimmages. He’s watched those each day from the sidelines while wearing a baseball cap.
“Really, the work he is doing on the field, that will continue to increase throughout the next few weeks,” Carroll said.
“Really, we’re shooting for, where is he at the start of the season? We’ll evaluate then how much longer it may take, or he may be ready then. We don’t know that yet.”
Graham, one of the NFL’s most prolific pass-catching tight ends, had his debut Seahawks season end last November with a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee.
“He’s confident that it’s going along well,” Carroll said. “He’s got some tests coming up going into next week that will give us some more information, and, you know, we’ll see how it’s going. We are pleased that he’s upbeat about it and confident. He’s worked very hard to make sure that he takes full advantage of the rehab time, as well as the football time. He’s making good progress.”
Graham not being ready for the start of the regular season has always been a possibility; his is a tricky injury. Players who’ve had it done sometimes take an extended time to recover, and sometimes aren’t the same player when they do. But Carroll and general manager John Schneider have both said optimistically that Graham was likely to be ready for the first game of 2016.
Is Graham close to getting back to team drills in practice?
“Yes, he is,” Carroll said. “There are some evaluations to be done going into next week. But I don’t have any expectation for that. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Graham coming off the PUP list means he can’t be on PUP to begin the regular season, if the Seahawks determine he isn’t yet ready to play. If Graham is not ready by Week 1, the team’s options are to: A. Carry him on the 53-man roster even though he would be unavailable — leaving Seattle with 52 available players; or B. Place him on injured reserve with the option to designate him for to return to practice six weeks into the regular season and then play in a game two weeks after that.
This past spring the league voted to create a new bylaw allowing to teams to select one player to return to practice among their players already on injured reserve, provided that designated player has spent at least six weeks on injured reserve. That player would then be able to return to the active roster and play in a game two weeks later.
It used to be a team had to designate a player to return off IR at the time that player first when on injured reserve. The new rule gives teams more flexibility.
So if the Seahawks think by early September Graham won’t be ready to play for about six more weeks, then IR with the designation to return could be an option. If they believe he could return sooner than six weeks, they could carry him on the active roster though he’d be unavailable for a while.
Or, Graham will prove ready to play the opener Sept. 11 against Miami.
Right now, that is an iffy proposition.
Strong safety Kam Chancellor (groin), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (groin), right tackle J’Marcus Webb (sprained knee), rookie running back C.J. Prosise (just back from a hamstring strain) also will not play in Thursday’s exhibition.
Webb’s absence means Garry Gilliam will start at right tackle and Bradley Sowell will start at left tackle against the Vikings. That was the lineup in last week’s opening exhibition at Kansas City.
Carroll said this will be a strong test for Sowell, the former Arizona Cardinals backup Seattle signed in the offseason. Minnesota right defensive end Everson Griffen has 22 1/2 sacks in the last two seasons.
Starters from both teams are likely to play the majority if not all the first half, depending on how long drives are.
That means more of Russell Wilson at quarterback and Christine Michael, Rawls’ stand-in, within the Seahawks’ backfield. Wilson played just one series last weekend. He moved the offense from its own 25 to the Kansas City 14, largely behind a 16-yard run by Michael off a plowing block by starting rookie right guard Germain Ifedi. Wilson then threw an interception at the goal line; his pass was late and behind the open Jermaine Kearse.
Rookie seventh-round pick Zac Brooks will play in his first Seahawks game. He missed last week with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Kasen Williams will also play after missing the Chiefs game with the same injury.
What’s Wilson want to see from Thursday’s second practice game?
“The biggest thing is just staying on course: our rhythm, our timing, getting the ball out,” Wilson said. “We’re excited to see the running backs make plays again as they did last week.”
Carroll’s wish for this exhibition is his starting defense being stouter. It allowed the Chiefs a touchdown on its only drive last week, a 51-yard march after a long kickoff return and Seattle face-mask foul. The front four did not get a pass rush on third and 9, allowing Alex Smith time to find a secondary option for a 20-yard gain to the 1.
“We would like to see the line of scrimmage better,” Carroll said. “We would like to see the attack on the football better. We didn’t get off on the ball very well last week. (Just) clean things up. Just continue to make progress and hopefully we will see some more information from the players that we are counting on to make this roster, you know, and have a chance to make it.
“We had some great surprises last week and hopefully there will be some more this week.”