In the early absence of the Beast, the running game looks good. And the mindset seems to be one of respectfully moving on.
Since this is the first post-Marshawn Lynch season for the Seattle Seahawks, I thought we’d sense greater bereavement.
Sure, there’d be less drama all around, but I expected more separation anxiety.
There’s enough young backs on hand, and the scheme will remain sound and ground-centric enough to keep Seattle among the league’s elite rushing teams.
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But Lynch was about more than mere rushing totals. He was the backbone of the offense, and in crucial times, the heartbeat of the team.
And if somebody can replace that rare quality as the emotional firestarter, it will have to be proven in the regular season.
I’m convinced that Lynch deserves to be in the Hall of Fame at some point, despite his shortened career, because of the toughness he brought to the game and to the team.
He became a bit of a traveling circus at times, but he was most of all a brutish running back, all quickness and gyroscopic balance, with a desire that matched anybody who ever carried the ball in the NFL.
Everybody in the Northwest can remember at least half a dozen times when thunderbolt runs by Lynch energized everybody on the field, in the stands, in the region.
His influence wasn’t limited to those famed highlight-reel runs, but sometimes even rose on a 2-yard gain when he had to break six tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage. Those inspired comrades and left dispirited opponents considering career options.
One former lineman told me that he knew he had to fire out and keep driving out of fear that Marshawn would run him over, too.
Can this team replace that competitive spark? That answer is not yet in evidence.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was asked about Lynch this week and spoke about him in the present tense, as if he might not be retired after all, only missing in action.
“We’re excited about moving forward, we’re excited about that, but at the same time we always miss a guy like that. He’s a great football player,” Wilson said. “We have tons of respect for Marshawn, and we’re looking forward to the running backs that are going to step up into his role and make a lot of great plays.”
Being temporary and transient, the NFL is about surviving the moment. And from the practical sense of who is going to run the ball, the status of Lynch’s heirs is far less a concern than most might have expected.
If health cooperates, they’re pretty well stocked.
Thomas Rawls’ recovery from ankle surgery has followed closely to the predicted schedule, but it’s all speculation until the real games start.
But if he returns close to 100 percent, and born-again back Christine Michael stays on the rails, it seems likely the team can continue to be one of the league’s elite.
Fears about the reconstructed offensive line have been at least slightly quelled by a solid training camp, with the run blocking seeming ahead of pass protection.
In 2015, they finished No. 3 in rushing at 142 yards per game. Don’t expect that to change.
Rawls missed most of the preseason during his cautious return, but the reasons to expect big things of him were evident his rookie season when he filled in for the injured Lynch.
Like Lynch, Rawls often ran through contact. He not only finished with the best per-rush average in the league (5.6 yards), but also led everyone in yards after contact (2.7)
Another convincing stat: Rawls’ 147 carries last season were almost exactly half of what Lynch averaged during the height of his career in Seattle. So, double Rawls’ total of 830 rushing yards last season, and he’d be on schedule for 1,660 for a season.
That total would have led the NFL in rushing four of the last seven seasons, and been second the other three times. Those are perennial Pro Bowl numbers.
Michael, meanwhile, has added the mental and maturity components to the physical talents that caused the Seahawks to draft him in the second round in 2013. And among the rookie draft picks, C.J. Prosise holds the most promise to contribute.
The rushing yards should add up to winning totals.
But whether anybody can replace Lynch’s game-changing toughness still needs to be proven.