Thomas Rawls took part in practice with his Seahawks teammates Tuesday for the first time since breaking his ankle in Baltimore last season, and while the second-year running back was limited in his workload on his first day back, he was clearly excited to take another step in the process of returning from that season-ending injury.
"It feels good to be back out here with the fellas," Rawls said. "… I'm very excited to be out here."
Added Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: "Every step of the way he's really taken something out of it. It means so much to him. The intensity that you can feel, the passion that you can feel is so real. He can't hide it, so he's really excited."
The Seahawks will be careful not to rush Rawls' return—Carroll said they don't know yet if or when Rawls will play in the preseason—and Rawls repeatedly used the phrase "day-to-day" when asked about any specifics of his recovery. But from limping off of the field in Baltimore with a broken ankle to surgery to all the grueling rehab, Rawls has maintained a positive outlook, one that only got a boost with Tuesday's return to practice.
"After I walked off that field (in Baltimore), it was all work again," Rawls said. "I didn't feel sorry for myself, I just came in the next day after surgery and just started working. Just put my head down and kept working and it led me to this point. I'm feeling good, I'm feeling awesome, I'm feeling great, I'm feeling phenomenal. I'm just taking it day by day and looking forward to getting back out there with my Seahawks."
That attitude doesn't mean the past seven months have been easy for Rawls. He admits doubt crept into his mind at times, such as when he first put weight on his injured leg, or when he ran for the first time, but Rawls persevered in part, he says, because of where he is from.
"Did they tell me it would be tough get back? Yeah," Rawls said. "But I know I'm built for it. I'm proud to say where I'm from, I'm from Flint, Michigan, where you've got to be tough, and there's nothing that can stop me."
In addition to the toughness instilled in him by his hometown, Rawls also got a boost from retired Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who reached out during Rawls' recovery from surgery.
"A lot of encouragement," Rawls said. "He's been having my back for a long time now, making sure I'm in good spirits."
When Rawls is back up to full speed and taking part in game action, one thing he won't be worried about is the possibility of this injury changing his approach to the game.
"When I go out there, I go out there to work hard," he said. "Me and every other man in that locker room, every time we come out here and take the field or touch a weight, we're at risk, and that risk, I'm not scared to take. So when I'm out here, I'm out here cutting hard, I'm out here running hard, I'm out here working hard for the fellas out here, because I've done a lot to earn their trust and I'm just trying to keep it."
Rawls' injury cut short a promising rookie season in which he rushed for 830 yards in 13 games, starting seven games in place of an injured Marshawn Lynch. Rawls' 5.6 yard-per-carry average was the best in the NFL for qualified rushers last season, and getting him back will give the Seahawks not just another talented player in their backfield, but a sense of confidence that their running game can continue to be one of the best in the NFL even after Lynch's retirement.
"What he brings to this whole team is optimism—optimism that we can run the football like we did when Marshawn was here," running backs coach Sherman Smith said. "Guys really believe in him, they believe that this guy is Baby Beast Mode. He's going to be special. He gives us optimism that we can run the football, because we saw what he could do just in the little bit we got last year."
Check out the best photos from the ninth day of Seahawks Training Camp held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.