RENTON, Wash. — It wasn’t until Sidney Rice got put on his butt that you knew he was back.
It happened Tuesday during a passing drill at practice, when free safety Earl Thomas hit Seattle’s top wide receiver. Thomas pulled up a little bit, but the blow was enough to knock Rice off his feet.
“It was great,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Great? Rice is coming off twin shoulder surgeries this offseason, a guy who has missed more regular-season games (17) than he has played over the previous two years and had 11 anchors installed in each shoulder this offseason.
“He needed to feel that and know that could happen,” Carroll said.
Rice also needed to get up right away, which the receiver did, his coach coming over to congratulate him on his return to his rough and tumble profession.
Rice is back practicing at full speed, and he’s expected to play in the exhibition game Friday in Kansas City. It will be a return he has been working toward for months.
“I just needed to get out there,” Rice said.
He plays a pivotal role in Seattle’s offense. He’s the guy the Seahawks paid to be the No. 1 receiver they had been searching for since Carroll’s arrival in 2010. That search started with a visit from free-agent Brandon Marshall two years ago, continued with inquires about Vincent Jackson when he was with the Chargers, but Rice was the one they signed to a five-year deal in 2012, guaranteeing him a reported $18 million.
There were times last year he looked like he would be worth every penny. Like when he caught eight passes for 109 yards in his Seahawks debut in Week 3. Or the 52-yard touchdown pass he caught the next week from Tarvaris Jackson.
He is 6 feet 4, he is athletic and his hands are incredible, but while ability has never been a question, durability has. In five years in the NFL, he has played a full 16-game schedule only once.
He missed the first two games of last season with a shoulder injury, played the next nine and then was placed on injured reserve after suffering two concussions in the span of three games. After that, he underwent shoulder surgeries — plural — in the offseason.
But Seattle is counting on him especially as Doug Baldwin — the team’s leading receiver last season — might not play at all during exhibition games as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Rice is a critical component for an offense that ranked No. 28 in total yardage last season and hasn’t had a player catch more than 65 passes in any season since Carroll arrived. Rice is a top-shelf target, provided he’s not on the shelf, which is what has made his recovery so important.
“He is ahead of schedule,” Carroll said. “He’s applied himself so well and has done a great job in the weight room. He’s never been pumped like this before. He’s feeling really confident out there, and we are all looking forward to it.”
• CB Roy Lewis will undergo knee surgery, Carroll said, though the coach declined to discuss either the nature of the injury or speculate on a timetable for his return.
• RB Marshawn Lynch (back) and FB Michael Robinson (toe) did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday, and would be considered unlikely to play Friday.