The Seattle Seahawks released their first depth chart of the regular season Tuesday, listing Thomas Rawls ahead of Eddie Lacy as the No. 1 running back. That aligns with the order in which those two worked for much of the summer, once Lacy was practicing at full speed following an ankle injury from last year.
All indications are that Rawls will get the first crack in the Seahawks' backfield when they open the season Sunday at the Green Bay Packers. It's still anyone's guess, though, as to how Seattle plans on divvying up the early-down carries between those two -- in that game and beyond.
Having two starting options is a comforting feeling for coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks after their backfield was hit hard by injuries in 2016. Carroll hasn't been in any hurry to determine which of them will get the lion's share of the work.
"They're battling, just as they have been the whole time," Carroll said last week, while Rawls was nursing an ankle injury of his own. "I think when Thomas gets back on the field officially and he's playing, it's a great situation for us. We're really excited to have the different dimensions and different styles that the guys bring. Everybody's got a good attitude, everybody's got a way about them that makes them different. I've always coveted that. They couldn't be much more different in stature than they are. But I think they're really terrific players for us."
Seattle's backfield is as deep as it's been in recent years. Perhaps the best indication of that is with rookie Chris Carson, who was the team's most impressive running back over the summer and yet sits fourth on the depth chart. C.J. Prosise figures to again be Seattle's third-down back as long as he can stay healthy, while Carson and do-it-all man J.D. McKissic will have to make the most of whatever touches are left.
The most pressing question is still with the two at the top.
When the Seahawks showed interest in veterans Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray in free agency before signing Lacy to a one-year deal, it seemed like an indication of waning faith in Rawls. He had been productive when healthy, even leading the NFL with a 5.6-yards-per-carry average over 13 games as an undafted rookie in 2015, but a pair of serious injuries sidelined him for 10 combined games over his first two seasons.
Rawls looked healthy again during training camp while routinely working ahead of Lacy in the rotation. He also started the team's preseason opener, but the rest of the exhibition games didn't offer anything in the way of conclusive evidence as to how the two will be used. Rawls missed the next three games, though Carroll said he was healthy enough to play in the finale. Lacy, meanwhile, carried only 14 times for 51 yards in three games.
Carroll doesn't have a strong preference as to how carries should be shared in a backfield. He's won championships with both the one-two punch (Reggie Bush and LenDale White at USC) and more recently the bell-cow approach (Marshawn Lynch in Seattle).
"I do like having different dimension guys. Go back to the SC days. That is really as obvious as you can make it when you have really different-style guys," Carroll said. "You can play in different modes at times and sometimes one mode would be more effective than the others, so the versatility, I'm very comfortable with that. I think we will be able to execute that very well. We have a really diverse group. You start with those two guys [Rawls and Lacy], but then C.J. brings some stuff and Chris is really exciting to see too and then McKissic's lit us up the last couple days with all the versatility he brought and with the question of where he's playing and all, so I'm fine with it. I am really comfortable and I have no problem with it.
"Also, I'm comfortable with a guy taking over. If a guy takes over and it's obvious, I got no problem with that either. I guess that's pretty wide open."
Seattle has the pieces in place to re-establish what had been one of the NFL's top rushing offenses. The Seahawks ranked no worse than fourth in rushing from 2012-15 before falling to 25th last season, when circumstances dictated a greater reliance on the passing game.
The Seahawks want to get back to their running ways in 2017. It's just not clear who's going to be doing most of the running.