Thomas Rawls playing in this preseason game?
Let’s get real.
That was Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s message Wednesday. For the first time since his new lead running back broke his ankle and tore ligaments in December, Carroll said unequivocally Rawls will play in the Seahawks’ first real game of the 2016 season.
“Thomas looks really good. I’d like to tell you he looks great. I have no hesitation to say he will play in the opener,” Carroll said Wednesday following a light walk-through practice for Thursday’s third preseason game against Dallas at CenturyLink Field.
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Rawls was the Seahawks’ breakout rookie rushing star last season as an undrafted free agent. He began this training camp on the physically unable to perform list following surgery last winter for the first major injury of his football life. He returned to full participation this week with the starting offense.
And upon that return, he didn’t sound like he needed to play in either the exhibition against the Cowboys or the preseason finale at Oakland on Sept. 1.
“When I come out here to practice, it’s like a game to me. I run hard. I finish my runs. I look for the contact,” Rawls said. “I know the guy is coming to strip the ball, so I have to keep it high and tight. I’ll be ready whenever my number is called.
“I’m getting better each day. I’m working so hard. I’m out here. I’m in the film room making adjustments and making sure that I’m mentally ready to be out there also. I’m not worried about mentally or physically being out there. …
“I will be ready by the first game.”
Carroll said Rawls will not play in Thursday’s exhibition, the final full rehearsal for starters before the regular season.
So what? Carroll’s statement Wednesday was the clearest declaration yet that Rawls will be full go for Sept. 11 against Miami in the regular-season opener.
“I have no hesitation in saying that,” Carroll repeated.
Tight end Jimmy Graham was Rawls’ partner on the PUP list. He returned to practice the same week Rawls did. Graham worked with the starting offense Wednesday. The no-pads, no-helmet drills were the appropriate tempo for Graham right now, Carroll said.
Graham ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee on Nov. 29 against Pittsburgh. It remains possible he could miss the first couple of regular-season games.
“He will be picking up steam here in the next couple weeks,” Carroll said.
Rookie third-round draft choice Nick Vannett is out at tight end because of a high-ankle sprain. Luke Willson and Brandon Williams are the first two tight ends. The third could become undrafted rookie Tanner McEvoy. He was a safety in spring minicamps and a wide receiver until this week.
Rookie running back C.J. Prosise will make his first appearance for the Seahawks on Thursday, Carroll said. Seattle drafted Prosise in the third round in May to be its new third-down back to catch passes, but he strained his hamstring on the first day of camp.
The biggest task remaining for Seattle over these final two preseason games is to settle on a starting left tackle and right tackle on an offensive line that appears to be three-fifths set.
J’Marcus Webb will play against the Cowboys at right tackle and maybe on the left, Carroll said. Webb was the No. 1 right tackle from May’s minicamps until two weeks ago, when he sprained his knee.
Seattle is likely to again start Bradley Sowell at left tackle and Garry Gilliam at right tackle. That’s where they were for the first two preseason games. Webb could play with the starting offense before it leaves Thursday’s game – sometime during the third quarter.
“He didn’t like the fact he lost some of his opportunity there by being out. So he’s come back very determined and looked very good in practice,” Carroll said of Webb. “I expect him to play well in this game, just based on how he’s practiced.
“He’ll play on the right side. Depending on how the game goes, he may get a couple snaps on the other side, too.”
Webb left Oakland in the spring and signed a two-year contract. The Seahawks guaranteed him $2.75 million. He played left tackle for all 32 games of the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons with Chicago. That was after he debuted at right tackle for the Bears as a rookie in 2010.
“He is an option,” Carroll said of Webb at left tackle. “He looked very comfortable there, which is a real positive, and that’s why we’ll continue to just gather information on this.
“Anxious to see how Bradley (Sowell) does again. He had a couple good games so far, but it’s important to have the flexibility. It looks like he was very comfortable, and if he can get a couple snaps in the game, that’ll be good.”
What also would be good: The Seahawks’ starting offense finally scoring. Through two preseason games, it has played six drives and produced 167 yards on 39 plays (4.3 yards per play) with 11 first downs, one interception, one turnover on downs – and zero points.
“We’ve had some great drives. We just haven’t put it in the end zone as much as we wanted to,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “We’re going to do that and we’re excited about that.”
Wilson has completed 8 of 17 passes, with three drops, for 111 yards with one interception and four sacks in two quarters, plus one drive. All those sacks came in the first half last week against Minnesota. After that game, Carroll said Wilson needs to get the ball out more quickly to help his in-flux line.
“Those sacks are on me. I put those on me,” Wilson said Wednesday. “We just need to do a better job of that. It’s a collective effort, but we’re doing a great job. I’m really excited about what we have, especially up front with what those guys are doing. They give me plenty of time, which is a great thing. There are a couple of times when you need to throw it away; that’s my competitive side. ... I’m not just going to give up on plays.
“At the same time, just being able to move on to the next play – say it’s second and seven – and if it’s not there, throwing it away or whatever it may be, and it still being third and seven, still being a pretty manageable down. Making sure we don’t make it third and 12 or third and 13. So that’s really the simple focus.”
Defensively, the Seahawks will have Jordan Hill, making his first start of the preseason, at tackle. Hill was No. 1 in the competition to replace the departed Brandon Mebane, then strained his groin early this month. Jarran Reed took over as the starter for the first two preseason games, but the rookie second-round pick injured his foot and ankle and has spent this week in a walking boot. Reed won’t play against Dallas.
The defensive line and rotating competitors for the strong-side linebacker job – Mike Morgan, Cassius Marsh, Eric Pinkins and Kevin Pierre-Louis – will be facing the Cowboys’ rookie fourth overall pick. Running back Ezekiel Elliott is expected to play up to a dozen snaps in his preseason debut. He’s been sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
DALLAS COWBOYS at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Thursday, 7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
The series: Seahawks lead the preseason series, 3-2. The last exhibition between these teams was Aug. 12, 2006, a 13-3 win for Dallas in Seattle.
Give ’em a break: That’s what coach Pete Carroll wants quarterback Russell Wilson to do for his in-flux offensive line, which could use some help. Carroll blamed at least two of the four sacks of Wilson in last week’s exhibition on his quarterback not getting the ball out quickly enough. Wilson owned up to that. This is no time for Wilson to do his signature, sandlot scrambles for extended, improvisational plays. His linemen need a scheduled release so they don’t have to pass block as long. Look not necessarily for whether Wilson’s passes get caught, but if they get out in less than 4 seconds after snaps.
Settle on a line: Carroll says of the decision on five starters for the O-line: “We’re pretty settled right now. However, we’re just allowing the competition to play itself out, and we don’t want to cut off anybody’s opportunities. It’s more likely not to change a lot.” That means Bradley Sowell will get a chance to cement the starting left tackle job, Garry Gilliam will get the same chance at right tackle, and it’s past time for J’Marcus Webb (back from a sprained knee) to show he should play at either right or left tackle.
What Prosise-ly does he play like? The offense has been waiting since he strained his hamstring in the first 10 minutes of training camp on July 30 to see why Seattle drafted C.J. Prosise in the third round in May. The running back has looked smooth catching passes and running the ball, every bit the former Notre Dame wide receiver and expected third-down back this season was advertised to be. This preseason debut will show whether what Prosise has been doing in practice this week translates into a “game” against Dallas’ starting defense.
6 — Tanner McEvoy, TE/WR (6-foot-6, 230 pounds, rookie): Switched to TE this week with Nick Vannett out (high-ankle sprain). Chance to win an unlikely roster spot.
22 — C.J. Prosise, RB (6-1, 220, rookie): Needs to show he’s not as brittle as first months as a pro have indicated.
97 — Jordan Hill, DT (6-1, 290, fourth season): Lost starting job after a groin injury this month. Chance to get it back with rookie Jarran Reed out (toe, ankle).
4 — Dak Prescott, QB (6-2, 226, rookie): Fourth-round pick from Mississippi State has been a preseason star. Will play after Tony Romo.
21 — Ezekiel Elliott, RB (6-0, 225, rookie): NFL “game” debut for fourth overall pick out of Ohio State after an early hamstring injury.
77 — Tyron Smith, LT (6-5, 308, sixth): Watch three-time Pro Bowl selection and 2014 All-Pro to see what Seattle’s OTs should aspire to be.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle