Lynch, who signed a contract extension Friday, shows more than just power. His football savvy often is overlooked in Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme.
Chad Brown, the former Seahawks linebacker, was behind the end zone in Arizona when Marshawn Lynch came barreling his way.
It was a special vantage point that allowed Brown to watch Lynch’s Beast Quake II run, a zigzagging escapade that was equal parts ballet and monster-truck rally, infamous crotch grab included.
“It was about as awesome of a run as I’ve ever seen,” Brown gushed. “It was all these skillsets that you want a running back to have on display — in just one play: vision, footwork, power, speed, use of your hands and the ability to take it all the way to the house. I was just blown away.”
Lynch’s new deal
Marshawn Lynch signed a two-year extension through 2017, the team announced Friday. Lynch’s new deal is worth $24 million with $12 million guaranteed this season; that includes a $7.5 million signing bonus and $4.5 million in base salary. Lynch originally was scheduled to make $7 million this season. Lynch, who will be 29 this season, also could make $9 million in 2016 and $10 million in 2017, but that money isn’t guaranteed.
Seahawks running back Robert Turbin said afterward, “Greatness. Just pure greatness.” Safety Earl Thomas and other defensive players ran onto the field to celebrate out of “respect.”
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It was vintage Lynch — a running back with so much raw power that it overshadows the finer points of his game. It’s like opening a toolbox to find a giant mallet and ignoring the other tools that are just as important for finishing the job, and it’s a major reason why the Seahawks were willing to give Lynch a raise. Lynch signed a two-year extension through 2017 on Friday and will receive $12 million for the 2015 season.
“He’s special,” said Seahawks running-backs coach Sherman Smith in January. “That’s what I tell my guys: ‘You need to know something. We have a chance to be close to greatness. This guy is a great player.’ And some of my guys can’t handle it because they wish their skill level was as high as his. I don’t tell them this, but you can work out hard all you want to, but he’s just gifted.”
There’s an NFL Films clip from a Seahawks game in which coach Pete Carroll comes over to Lynch on the bench. Carroll tries to explain what the defense is doing and how Lynch can take advantage of it. Lynch stares back and repeats, “I just read it,” and eventually Carroll laughs and says, “OK, just read it, right?”
There is a great deal of instinct to what Lynch does, but that undersells his understanding of the position and the Seahawks’ offense.
Fullback Derrick Coleman said earlier in the season that coaches use Lynch as the example. “They always say: ‘Run like Marshawn, get to the spot and make a decision,’ ” he said. “The guys who try to do other stuff are the ones who ain’t here anymore.”
What that shows is something Lynch doesn’t get much credit for: His football savvy.
The Seahawks run a zone-blocking scheme, which means offensive linemen target certain spots more than they target individual players. It also means that the running back has to be patient enough to trust that a hole will eventually open even if one isn’t there at first blush.
The Seahawks call this “popping the clutch” because they ask their running backs to patiently cruise to the line of scrimmage, then take off when the “dark crease” between the linemen suddenly turns into light. Lynch does this as well as anyone, and it’s a patience he developed during his first two years in Seattle.
“He knows that it’s not about the long runs; it’s about the short runs,” Coleman said. “Even if it’s a dark crease, you can still get 2 or 3 yards. You might see 5 or 6 yards over there, but we can live with 2 or 3 yards. If he starts bouncing outside, bad (stuff) happens.”
Former NFL fullback Heath Evans said Lynch is one of his favorite running backs to watch. To Evans, Lynch is like the conductor of an orchestra, only with the band’s back facing him. The number of steps he takes, the way those steps can place linebackers where the Seahawks want them, works in concert with the offensive line. Evans said few running backs are better maestros than Lynch.
No teammate, current or former, knows Lynch’s game better than fullback Michael Robinson, his old lead blocker and confidante. What strikes Robinson about Lynch is his footwork — Carroll once compared Lynch to a slalom skier because of his “unusual” footwork.
Lynch runs so often out of the shotgun that his footwork comes in handy. He can come across the quarterback diagonally, get the ball and within a step get his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage. That allows him to challenge defenders who don’t know if he’s going to run left, right or straight at them.
“He gets his shoulders square faster than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Robinson said. “And he’s able to do it without a jump cut, just with one step. That’s the difference … It’s more efficient. Not many human beings walking the Earth can do that.”
The visceral implications of Lynch’s style are more direct. Former NFL safety Louis Riddick paid Lynch the highest compliment when he said he would like to see Lynch collide with his idol, Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, just to see who would win.
Offensive linemen Patrick Lewis and Alvin Bailey get to hear Lynch’s work up close, and their search for the right descriptors underscores why defenders can be reluctant to hit Lynch.
“You want to say a car wreck but…,” Lewis said.
“That doesn’t sound violent enough to me,” Bailey said.
“A lot of times, I feel like somebody’s helmet cracks,” Lewis said. “If you look at it, everybody he hits has to fix their chinstrap, just about.”
Lynch will be 29 when the 2015 season starts, and he has carried the ball more than 2,000 times in his career — a rugged workload for a player who hunts for collisions.
Those are legitimate concerns for any running back, but if Lynch’s body holds up, there isn’t much doubt about how he will run in 2015.
“Marshawn is a guy who has never been one to back down from a challenge,” Robinson said. “He’s never been one to back down from a fight. The type of fight that he has is not learned. It’s from where he comes from. It’s from how he was brought up. It’s the fabric of who he is.”