Rankin on the run

Posted Nov 4, 2009

The release of Edgerrin James has given former UW running back Louis Rankin a chance to show his stuff for the Seahawks – and be himself.

During his first four weeks with the Seahawks, Louis Rankin was Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew, Tim Hightower and Marion Barber.

Wednesday, he finally got to be himself.

After a month of Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays spent mimicking the opposing running backs to help the defense prepare for games against the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys, the former University of Washington back is being given a chance to play a role with the Seahawks – on offense and special teams.

“I’ve been everybody I could be – everybody we’ve played,” Rankin said after practice. “It’s nice to be myself. I’m excited about it. It’s a great opportunity and, if it goes well, I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Rankin’s rise came at the expense of a great running back who the Seahawks signed on August 25 – Edgerrin James, the NFL’s leading active rusher before the Seahawks released him on Tuesday.

“I felt for Edgerrin, but I was excited for the opportunity,” said Rankin, who was signed to the Seahawks’ 53-man roster last week when nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones was placed on injured reserve.

“Edgerrin was a good guy and I learned a lot from him. He was constantly telling me that I was going to be a good back in the league. And he worked with me. So seeing him go was tough. But I’m really excited about the opportunity I’m getting here.”

Coach Jim Mora also was complimentary of the work James did in his 10-week stay, but added, “Very simply, in our attempt to get Louis Rankin some plays, a look, and see if we can utilize the speed that he has, see if he’s a legitimate possibility as a running back in the National Football League, you have to put someone down.

“Rather than ask Edgerrin James, and a man of his stature in this league, to be inactive, and relegate him to a position on the scout team during the week, we felt like the honorable thing to do was to let him go.”

So now, it’s Rankin’s turn. He will return kickoffs in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Qwest Field, and the coaches also sound determined to feature his speed on offense – although Julius Jones remains the starter and the versatile Justin Forsett also is in the mix.

Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp knows Rankin better than most, because Rankin was on the Raiders’ practice squad for 13 games and the active roster for the final three games last season when Knapp was the coordinator in Oakland.

“The first thing that impressed me about him was his work ethic,” Knapp said. “This guy came to work and, like what happened when he first got here, he was the scout team running back and never complained once. Played hard. Played through pain and injury.

“As far as his traits – great speed. He has very good speed. Hits the hole fast.”

Ah, that speed. Ask anyone about Rankin and the first thing they mention is his speed – especially for a back who is 6 feet 1 and weighs 205 pounds. Rankin never got to run the all-important 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 2008, after his senior season at the University of Washington, because he wasn’t invited to the combine.

At first, Rankin avoids the question like a defensive lineman trying to beat him to the edge.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just try to get around the corner before they can get me.”

Pressed a bit, Rankin said he ran the 40 in 4.4 seconds – in the rain – during his workout with the Seahawks.

But more than his speed, it’s the way Rankin uses his speed. He displayed that ability in practice Wednesday, biding his time behind the line to set up a block and then exploding up the sideline.

“He does have some background experience in this zone run game that shows us some chances to hit that hole fast and get a big run for you,” Knapp said. “He’ll allow that block to get setup because he feels he can get that burst once the block has been made to get that inside gap or outside gap depending what the read is.”

As Rankin put it, “That’s definitely something I’ve been blessed with, and I try to take advantage of it.”

And the fact that he’s finally doing it as himself, well, all the better.

“You definitely get those doubts,” Rankin said of being released by the Raiders and having spent time on the practice squads of two teams. “But you can’t let yourself go there. The main thing is just to go out there every day and control what you can control and just work hard every day.”

Which is a lot easier to do when you’re allowed to be yourself.