Former first-round power back looks for reclamation in a new city.
As much as Buffalo must have become a foreign land to former first-round pick Marshawn Lynch, Seattle seemed to feel like home for the 24-year-old running back. After four years of losing records, his own problems with the law, an entirely new front office and coaching staff, “home games” in Toronto, and a franchise that has become the poster child for the small-market side of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, it was time for Lynch to find a change of scenery. The Bills seemed to sign off on this notion when they selected Clemson running back C.J. Spiller in the first round of the 2010 draft, leaving Lynch as the odd man out.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks had a problem: their running game was faltering without a big back. Head coach Pete Carroll had tried to solve this problem with Lendale White, but that went out the window quickly. A fourth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2010 was all it took to pry Lynch away from Buffalo and back to the West Coast. The Cal alum arrived in Seattle near midnight on Tuesday evening and was at the Seahawks’ facility at 6:00 Wednesday morning. Reunited with former Golden Bears teammates Brandon Mebane, Cameron Morrah, Mike Gibson, and Justin Forsett, and playing for a coach he knew well in Carroll from their days in the Pac-10 wars, Lynch may have been surrounded by more familiarity in his new NFL home. He looked strong in his first practice with the Seahawks, catching swing passes with explosive after-catch speed and hitting the inside lanes with authority against contact.
Of course, Lynch’s experiences with Carroll weren’t always entirely positive, as he recalled after his first practice as a Seahawk. “I couldn’t stand him,” Lynch said with a laugh of the former USC coach. “Straight up, I couldn’t stand him. He was one of those coaches who would run up and down the field like he was playing in the game, jumping around and high-fiving his players. He’s there dogging us, and I’m just sitting watching him having all this fin, and I thought, What is he doing? Run me to that sideline so I can hit him one time.’”
Lynch will have to get used to Carroll’s excitability – he’s constantly on the field during Seahawks games – but sharing a backfield with Forsett will be old hat. The two backs made up Cal’s explosive rushing attack in the 2005 and 2006 seasons, leading a ground game that finished seventh in the nation in that first season. When asked what his old and new teammate brings to the field, Forsett said that Lynch has a surprising mixture of skills. “He’s got a toughness and intensity about him that is rarely matched. I mean, he runs really hard, and when people see him coming, they usually get out of the way. But his speed is a surprise, because he’s so big and so strong.”
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch has the strength and durability to be a lead back, but in Seattle, there’s still a pecking order. Forsett has surprising power for his 5-foot-8, 190-pound frame, but he’s the guy who’s best at getting outside the guards and putting on the moves. Leon Washington, as he did with the New York Jets, is a multi-purpose threat. So, although Carroll has already said that Lynch will be a major part of the offense, the breaking-in point will take time. That’s one reason that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was also excited about the Lynch trade, will be spending more time at the team facility than usual during the team’s upcoming bye.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a guy like him,” Hasselbeck said of his newest back. “He’s a beast. It’s a boost to have that kind of weapon. We’ve been talking about getting the running game going, and this makes it a lot tougher for people to defend us. It gives us huge opportunities with play action and the naked bootleg – just all kinds of things. Winning first down, winning second down, making third down more manageable. I know Pete is really excited about him, the offensive coaches are excited about him, and Justin is excited about him. It’s a good thing.”
What everyone’s excited about in Seattle is called “Beast Mode” – Lynch’s own name for the running style that allowed him to put up 1,000-yard seasons his first two years in the league before other aspects of his life (and his old team’s issues) got in the way. Lynch struck a female pedestrian in a June, 2008 traffic violation, and he pled guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge that resulted from a March, 2009 incident in which police discovered a handgun in Lynch’s backpack. That bought him a three-game suspension, and a place on the Buffalo bench when he returned that he never expected.
Lynch lobbied for a trade in the offseason, and the Seattle move had been rumored for months, but the way Lynch heard about it was, shall we say, unconventional. “When I first heard about it, I thought it was a joke. I had just walked into the training room, and a quarterback in there all of a sudden said, Hey, Marshawn – you’ve been traded!’ I said, What?’ and he said, Man, just look on your phone!’ And it was spreading around the facility. So, I called my agent, he let me know, and we took it from there.”
When asked how it was possible that he hadn’t heard about the trade before then with all the information that new technology brings, Lynch admitted to being a bit old-school. “Well, I don’t do Twitter, and I don’t do Facebook. I’m an old-school, prehistoric guy. If they still made pagers, I’d probably use one of those instead of a cell phone.”
The Seahawks could use a bit of that vintage approach, as long as it leads to some serious smashmouth on the field.
“I feel this change is a great opportunity for me, not only in football, but in life as well,” Lynch said on Wednesday afternoon. “Everything that happened with me I feel is an opportunity, the things that come out of it, the way I handle it. This is another one and I plan to handle this situation just as well as I handled the rest. I say that because I’m still here standing.”
“That was a thing of the past,” Lynch said in summarizing his negative experiences on and off the field. “And I feel that if you revisit your past often, you get stuck there. And that’s not what I’m about; I’m about moving forward. So, I grew from it, and it was an opportunity for me to grow, and it helped me become a better person.
“Now, I’m here in Seattle, getting ready to show you that better person.”