Marshawn Lynch made a cameo appearance on Friday, taking the field for two plays, sans heavy contact, before assuming his rightful place on the sideline. The Seahawks aren’t going to take any undue risks with a commodity as valuable as Beast Mode.
From that point, as Lynch watched behind an unseasonable ski mask, the focus of the Seattle running game became sorting out the competition to be his backup.
It’s one of the more compelling battles of the exhibition season, and on this night, Robert Turbin took a turbo-charged step forward. Playing with the first-team offense in the first half, Turbin exploded for 81 yards on 12 carries, highlighted by a 47-yard scamper that might have caused seismic activity, had it been in the regular season.
Christine Michael, on the other hand, fumbled on his first carry, which is the quickest way off the field in Pete Carroll’s offense. Just ask Turbin, who fumbled a kickoff return against Arizona in a crucial late-season game and wasn’t called upon on kickoffs again.
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Michael recovered the ball, as he did last week against the Broncos, but two fumbles in two games will not sit well. With Turbin doing the bulk of the rushing, the Seattle offense hummed beautifully in the first half. The Seahawks showed up for an exhibition game, and a Super Bowl broke out, as they jumped ahead 24-0 en route to a 41-14 rout.
The first-unit offensive line, bolstered by the return of James Carpenter, afforded Russell Wilson much more time to operate, which he did impeccably. And their defense was mostly dominant, though an electrifying 105-yard interception return by Tharold Simon was nullified by an illegal contact call.
That play would have usurped Turbin’s run – a cutback to the right that resulted in an open-field sprint down the right sideline, capped by a fierce stiff-arm – as the play of the game. Turbin, limited to five carries for four yards in Denver, characterized the turnaround as just the vagaries of NFL football
“It’s not always going to be daylight,’’ he said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to create some. Sometimes, you’ve got to make people miss and break tackles.”
There’s a gravity to these preseason carries, however. The job of backup running back is not just a moot exercise this year. It’s likely that Lynch’s stature as a workhorse of the first order might be modified. He has averaged 300 carries per season for the past three years, and last year was one of just two NFL backs, along with LeSean McCoy, to exceed that number.
The Seahawks could well spread out those carries in 2014, with a mind toward next year, when Lynch’s status will be an issue. Lynch was mindful of that fact when he held out briefly from training camp, in pursuit of more guaranteed money as a hedge against being possibly cut after the season.
Turbin insists he’s not viewing this is a showdown with Michael, who gained 45 yards on eight carries, a healthy 5.6-yard average. Turbin said he’s been proving himself ever since he was drafted in the fourth round out of Utah State in 2012.
“People thought that guy was supposed to be better than me, that guy was supposed to be better than me. And I’m still here,’’ he said.
And now he’s doing it on healthier legs after offseason knee surgery. Asked how he felt this year, Turbin replied: “Just 10 times better. You know how everyone says that all the time? I really do. It’s not an excuse, but it’s the truth.”
Turbin credited his teammate’s blocking for springing him on the long run, but Carroll threw some praise his way as well.
“It was a real nice read,’’ he said. “He cut back great against the flow of the play and he got out in the open. I loved the finish. I’ve been trying to get Turbo to straight arm somebody since he got here and he had a dominant straight arm. He finally used one in a big fashion. I was really fired up for him. A great read, a great run and then a great finish, too. It was a hell of a play.”
Turbin ended up with one touchdown – three fewer than the cumulative total of Seattle quarterbacks, which prompted a good-natured barb.
“They’re ball hogs, like (Michael) Jordan in fourth quarter,’’ he said with a smile. “Whenever they hear ‘read’ on some play, or possible quarterback (run), they get excited. They don’t ever want to give us the ball.”
But when they did, Turbin made it count.
“Every opportunity is an opportunity,’’ he said. “I just want to get better. At the end of the day, I just want to get better, whether I’m getting four carries and a different amount the next time. Just take advantage of all that and use all of that to get better.”