The plan all along was for Rawls to replace retired superstar Marshawn Lynch as the lead back once the former Central Michigan star was in peak football condition after missing the entire offseason program and the first three preseason games after breaking his ankle last winter.
Although the two backs split the workload fairly evenly in the season opener, Michael played 63 percent of the snaps to just 27 percent for Rawls. Michael was also the more productive runner, averaging 4.4 yards per carry compared to 2.7 for Rawls.
Still, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell explained Wednesday that Rawls has "always been our starter."
"He was our starter last year and C-Mike has done a great job for us," Bevell added, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. "I don't think in any way do we need to minimize what he has done. He's done a phenomenal job, he'll still get opportunity to carry the ball. But Thomas has been our guy and you could see it in the game -- it was good to have him back. He's a physical runner, he's got the style that we look for, the tenacity that we look for and he kind of embodies who we want to be and he looked healthy and as long as he is healthy he is that guy."
Carroll leaned on Lynch as a workhorse for the past half-decade, but that was an exception rather than the rule in his coaching philosophy. Going back to his time with Reggie Bush and LenDale White in college, Carroll has relied upon multiple backs in his offensive attack.
"Basically, I think you get a couple guys and you get going so you can feed off those guys," Carroll explained last week, via the Seattle Times. "I think our days at USC really showed that, that you have multiple guys that could play with different strengths, and sometimes a guy was more effective on one day than the other guys.
"We never played the favorites, we just played the guy that was hot. I think the ability to mix guys gives us more flexibility and a higher level of play. But I do really appreciate the guy that just needs to be out there and stay out there and just keep digging and gets more instinctive as the game goes on. I've got that understanding too, but I think all in all over the course of the long season that we have, I think it's better to have guys that can feed off one another and I've always enjoyed that, I have no problem with it."
Rawls outplayed Lynch last season, leading the NFL with a gaudy per-carry average of 5.65 yards. His rookie game film strongly suggests he has a future as a top-10 NFL running back. Now that he's healthy and nearing peak form, he has earned the right to line up with the starters.
That doesn't mean the Seattle coaches are going to abandon Michael, who has shown obvious talent while putting together impressive game film over the past month.