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Ex-Seahawks RB coach Sherman Smith: Seattle didn’t have player who defined run game in 2016

Thomas Rawls struggled to stay healthy in 2016, the Seahawks first year after Marshawn Lynch's retirement. (AP)
LISTEN: Sherman Smith on why he's out as the Seahawks' RB coach

When former Seahawks running back coach Sherman Smith was coaching Marshawn Lynch, opponents knew they were in for a rough-and-tumble day trying to stop Seattle’s ground game. But in 2016, Seattle’s first after Lynch’s retirement and what turned out to be Smith’s last season on the coaching staff, things were different.

“Teams didn’t come in against us this year saying, ‘Hoo, man, I’m glad we don’t have to deal with Marshawn,'” Smith told “Brock and Salk” Friday. “Marshawn brought that intimidation factor, brought that awareness factor, that this is the guy that you have to contend with. He’s one of the best in the league, he can beat you with speed, he can beat you with power, he can beat you with elusiveness, so I think Marshawn brought definition. He defined our run game just by his run style and who he was, and we didn’t have that this year.”

That was not for lack of trying. The Seahawks turned to second-year RB Thomas Rawls in 2016, and for good reason after he impressed as a rookie with 830 yards over 13 games during Lynch’s injury-plagued final year. Rawls struggled to stay healthy, though, appearing in just nine games last season and totaling just 349 yards.

“Thomas Rawls tried to be the best version of Thomas Rawls and tried to be physical when he was healthy,” Smith said.

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Smith said Rawls was a victim of trying to do too much last season.

“I really think this past year, just the expectation of ‘OK, I’m the guy,’ Thomas put a little more pressure on himself,” Smith said. “He wanted to make the perfect cut every time and when he didn’t he would get frustrated, instead of his rookie year he just went out and he just ran and he wasn’t worrying about being the guy. He was just out there running and having fun. I think if he gets back to that he’ll provide a great run game for the Seahawks.”

Smith has a lot of confidence that Rawls will get back on track, even though as a player who went undrafted out of college he lacks the pedigree of a back like Lynch or Eddie George, who Smith coached during a nine-year tenure as the running backs coach for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise.

“He doesn’t come in with that build-up that Marshawn and Eddie had. Eddie was a Heisman Trophy winner and Marshawn was a (first-round) pick,” Smith said. “When I look at (Rawls’) mentality that he has, I think he can develop into that. He showed you what he could do his rookie year when Marshawn was hurt. That was no fluke, what he did. The guy’s a lot better than what people think he is. He’s a lot faster, more elusive. I just think what he has to do sometimes is free his mind up. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself last year.”

Here are some other notes from Smith’s interview with “Brock and Salk”:

• One of the more telling comments Smith made was about the difference between the Seahawks’ drive last season compared to before their Super Bowl XLVIII win. “The team was not as hungry as we were four years ago,” he said. “When you have the type of success that we’ve had – you win a Super Bowl, you have a heartbreaking loss in a Super Bowl, you’ve been to the playoffs five years in a row, you have this reputation – guys aren’t as hungry. They were hungry, but sometimes weren’t as hungry as we were. … I remember when we lost the Atlanta playoff game in 2012, when we came back, I knew there was an anger on that bus and on that plane that we didn’t win and we knew we were the best team.” Smith added that head coach Pete Carroll is doing what he can, but there’s more to it than that. “Pete can only do so much. Players have got to have a hunger … and they’re hungry for a lot of stuff, but we’ve got to get that hunger that we had when we weren’t winning. And how do you get that back when you’ve won and you’ve got the big contracts and you’ve got the endorsements and everybody loves you? How do you get that back? I think there’s only so much that Pete can do. But the players themselves, they’ve got to do some things themselves. I give a lot of the responsibility to the players. I think Pete can only do so much to give the guys what they need, but I think Pete’s gonna do everything he can do to get them to where they need to be.”

• Smith talked at length about Richard Sherman’s tumultuous 2016 season, which was most notable for the All-Pro cornerback’s sideline outbursts and public comments voicing disagreement with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s playcalling. Smith said “you have to put up with a little bit of that because you get a lot of good stuff from Richard Sherman,” and explained that the coaching staff didn’t let it get to them. “I don’t think guys took it personal,” he said. “We just knew Richard was a guy that was very emotional, very committed. … I think he cares a lot. I think he just really cares. … What I thought about Richard Sherman was this: That guy came to work every day, and he works his butt off every day. He’s a superstar in this league and he doesn’t take days off. He came to work when there were days when you didn’t think he’d practice because he had a hurt ankle or something, and he worked. I had so much respect for the way he prepared, the way he played, the way he practiced. When he would voice his opinion about something, sometimes it could be inappropriate at times, but I never had a problem with the person because I knew how much it meant to him by how much he gave to the game and how much he prepared to win.”

• It turns out Smith could have retired a year sooner if not for some input from Lynch. “I had told Marshawn when he retired, I was gonna retire. That was the truth. I said, ‘When you’re through, I’m through.’ And so when he retired in 2015, he said something to me. He said, ‘I’d like to see you come back and coach one more year to coach Thomas Rawls.'” Smith did that, but now that he’s moving on, he may be giving his old player a call. “Marshawn’s always promised me a job. He always told me that anytime I need some work he’ll have something for me. That’s my guy.”