The anointment of Thomas Rawls as Savior of the Seahawks might be a smidge premature.
As soon as his Monday afternoon press conference, coach Pete Carroll gave a self-indicting eye-roll when acknowledging that, under some coercion, he told radio hosts that Rawls reminded him of Hall of Fame back Earl Campbell.
Rawls has carried the ball only 101 times for the Seahawks, and even with a 6-yard average “he’s got a long way to go” before he is confused with Earl Campbell, Carroll hedged.
But as the hyperbole mounts after Rawls’ 209-yard rushing effort against San Francisco on Sunday, this much is fair to say: The Seahawks really, really needed Thomas Rawls to turn into what he has.
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It’s not just his yardage, his power running style, or even the sense of renewal he gives their offense as veteran Marshawn Lynch heads off to deal with the newest in a string of injuries (abdomen) that might turn this season into his career epilogue.
They needed Rawls because he’s an undrafted rookie who looks destined to be a major star, and they haven’t unearthed a hidden nugget like him in a long while, after building the core of their franchise with that kind of player.
After drafting six Pro Bowl players between 2010 and 2012, the Hawks haven’t consistently added starter-level talent and it’s weakened their depth. Granted, they didn’t have a lot of positions where it was easy for somebody to walk in and start.
Still, the 28 picks in the last three drafts have produced only one full-time starter (guard Justin Britt).
By the time this season ends, Rawls could have more impact than any player they’ve drafted since Russell Wilson.
An undrafted free agent signed out of Central Michigan, Rawls looked so good in the preseason that he suddenly made former draft picks Christine Michael (second round, 2013) and Robert Turbin (fourth round, 2012) expendable.
Now, with three 100-plus rushing performances in four starts, Rawls has proven himself to be the long-sought Heir of the Beast.
Carroll, in turn, needed Rawls because having a physical tailback to pound the ball is simply the way he loves to play the game. Lynch has been perfect, and been the prime force in creating the expectation for tough play that carried the team to two Super Bowls.
Maybe Lynch is not yet obsolete, but he’s an afterthought at the moment. It took 9 minutes of questions (mostly about Rawls) on Monday before Carroll was asked about the status of Lynch’s injury, and his pending examination by a doctor in Philadelphia.
In the interim, we’re getting to know more about Rawls, his hard-scrabble upbringing in one of America’s toughest towns — Flint, Michigan. And his unfulfilling career at Michigan, and his transferring to Central Michigan to find playing time to prove himself. Along the way he’d been limited by injuries, academics and a legal scrape.
But Carroll took personal interest in him as a prospect, seeing on video the way he sought out defenders to deliver punishment. “He makes somebody miss to find somebody to hit,” Carroll explained of his style, using his speed and elusiveness to get through the hole, and then his power to run defenders over when necessary.
Many of the plays most indicative of Rawls’ future won’t even make the highlight reel of the San Francisco game. In the first period, he showed surprising receiving skills, with a high-reaching, twisting reception of a swing pass. And later, on a third-and-1, he took the handoff and was instantly nailed, dead-to-rights, two yards behind the line. But he kept his feet and his leg drive, and ended up gaining two yards to sustain the drive.
Those were a very manly two yards.
Another time, he took a hit, was down on both knees, but still delivered a blow to a defender who had closed in to finish him off.
The word “Tenacious” is tattooed on his right bicep. But it’s also the signature he puts on his runs, snap to whistle.
And after the game, the 22-year old filled his press conference with humility and gratitude and appreciation, so it’s possible he also could turn into a good ambassador for this team in the community.
Maybe this team doesn’t really need him as a savior. But if he can continue to be the gashing-bashing, 6-yard-a-pop power back he’s been, he can help the Seahawks end this season far better than they started it.