It’s the biggest question to the Seahawks’ upcoming playoff run — well, besides the foe they will play to start it.
And it won’t be answered by the team, but by a mixed martial arts coach in San Francisco.
The date of Marshawn Lynch’s return to the Seahawks is in the hands of Tareq Azim. He is the running back’s trainer in a gym across the San Francisco Bay from Lynch’s hometown of Oakland, California.
That day could be Wednesday, if Lynch’s workouts Monday and Tuesday — in recovery from abdominal surgery Nov. 25 — go well. It may or may not mean Lynch can play Sunday in the regular-season finale at Arizona, for the first time since Nov. 15.
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That has Seattle coach Pete Carroll more optimistic the four-time Pro Bowl back and 2012 All-Pro will be the team’s lead runner for its playoff opener Jan. 9 or 10.
And it’s all up to Azim and his training staff in San Francisco.
“He’s got a big day (Monday) and a big day (Tuesday) working out. We’ll see how that goes,” Carroll said Monday. “From what I understand, he has a chance if those days go back to back and he does well, that he might be in here for Wednesday. We’ll see.
“He’s still working out with his guys down south. That’s to get him cleared to see if he can get in here and do some work with us.”
Appearances, specifically Lynch’s lack thereof at team headquarters — he’s been there just one day since his surgery in Philadelphia more than a month ago — plus Carroll’s characterizations of Lynch as “at large” and “off-site” have left the impression the Seahawks are detached from the star back’s rehabilitation.
Not so, says Carroll. While Lynch and the team aren’t in constant — or much of any — contact, the Seahawks are getting updates from his trainers. These are the same trainers who have prepped him over summers for each of the recent seasons.
Yes, it’s odd: An employer paying an employee a guaranteed $4.5 million for the year yet not directing his work, not even knowing his exact comings and goings, during the company’s most important production period.
But as we know by now, nothing is normal regarding Mr. “I’m Just Here So I Won’t Get Fined.”
“We’re pretty much relying on the reports they’re giving us, and also the work that’s being done,” Carroll said. “Those guys know him really well and they’re the ones that have, for the last few years, really done great work with Marshawn. We’re trusting that they’re looking seriously at the preparation level, his endurance, all of those things to give us a good indication that we can move forward.
“We have a really good relationship with the guys that are working him out, and long-standing … we feel like we really understand what’s happening.”
NFL.com reported this past weekend Lynch’s training with Azim after the first surgery of the 29-year old’s career has not been MMA training. It quotes Azim saying his rehabilitation goal is to incrementally guide Lynch through physical and mental “discomfort” and to “release the beast.”
“What I do is, I really target mental deficiency,” Azim told NFL.com. “What is preventing maximization of performance? I make that the internal opponent.
“His whole career he’s gone without any surgery or big injury. And a lot of this is a mental hurdle of him wanting to feel right again. To not feel right is very rare for him; he’s a guy who runs through people, not around people.”
As you may have gathered, this is not the traditional rehabilitation of an NFL star from an in-season surgery.
“No, they’re not traditional. They’re something apart from traditional. They’re extraordinary,” Carroll, the unconventional, modern-day players’ coach, said of Lynch’s trainers. “They really tax you in the process and really challenge a guy mentally and physically. And we’ve really come to appreciate the work that they do and how they do it.”
Asked if he expects Lynch to play in the same week Azim and his training staff clear him, Carroll said: “We’ll have to wait and see how he does football wise.”
There was talk Lynch was in the Seattle area last weekend, which included the 23-17 home loss to St. Louis. That ended the Seahawks’ five-game winning streak, all without Lynch.
“Yeah, from what I understand,” Carroll said of Lynch being in Seattle over the weekend and then leaving again. “I don’t know that for a fact. I heard he was here for an event or something like that.”
The Rams (7-8) held Christine Michael and Bryce Brown, the latest replacements for Lynch and out-for-the-year rookie runner Thomas Rawls, to 15 combined yards on 13 carries Sunday. That was one week after Michael and Brown led Seattle (9-6) to 182 yards rushing against the three-win Cleveland Browns.
Suddenly, Lynch’s return is a pressing issue again — just in time for the playoffs. He has averaged 91.7 yards rushing per game with nine total touchdowns in 10 career postseason games.
Told he sounds more optimistic that Lynch will be back for the playoffs than he has at any time since the surgery, Carroll said: “We’re a week later, so we’re getting closer. All along it has been this kind of time frame, so it would be fitting.
“If he’s able to make it back, this would be about right. I think that’s probably more than anything why you’re sensing the optimism.”
Carroll said he and the team sought Monday to put the ugly loss to the Rams in which St. Louis dominated the line of scrimmage behind them as an aberration. “After the last six weeks of playing, then you see a game like that, I’m going with the six weeks rather than last week of how we’re going to be as we move forward,” the coach said. … QB Russell Wilson got hit 13 times trying to throw, including on four Rams sacks, and that doesn’t count the hit he took from DE Eugene Sims on a downfield scramble that caused him to fumble near St. Louis’ goal line late. “He’s got some ninja in him, or something. He can get out of those hits and he’s really great at avoiding getting banged,” Carroll said. “He got hit a couple times. He’s going to make it and he’s going to be fine for this week.” … Carroll said TE Luke Willson was improved after getting a concussion Sunday. “He’s making improvements, marked improvements. … Often, the guys make no progress in the first two or three days. That’s good. We’ll see what happens though. We’ll take good care of him.” … The coach said “there’s a chance” LT Russell Okung (calf), SS Kam Chancellor (pelvis) and DT Jordan Hill (toe) play Sunday at Arizona after missing the Rams game. Carroll made it sound likely all three can all return for the playoffs.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle