Beast Mode left a tangible void in February when he retired. But the replacement process on the field actually began last season when he missed eight games. And they still have a strong locker room filled with dynamic veterans.
Straight outta Fantasy Land, the notion of Marshawn Lynch returning to the NFL was broached Thursday, and pretty much shot down by Friday, by no less an authority than his close friend, Michael Robinson.
But such is the strength of his charisma that the very notion of a Lynch comeback initiated wide-spread reaction. The man just had a certain allure that hasn’t quite faded away.
No question, Beast Mode left a tangible void in the Seahawks’ locker room, in addition to the one on the field, when he retired. On Sunday, Seattle will go into its first season without the hard-driving, interview-avoiding running back since 2010, when they picked Lynch up on Oct. 5 of that year and ushered in one of the most memorable eras in club history.
Lynch absence hasn’t been much talked about this preseason, but it has been felt — and not just through the thundering silence in the locker room, which is now minus the throbbing rap music Lynch would blast through the room. As detached as Lynch might have seemed from afar — more a reflection of his reclusive media stance than anything else — he was a major presence.
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“People judge you without even knowing you,’’ Cliff Avril said. “Marshawn was definitely a leader.”
“It’s definitely been weird,’’ added K.J. Wright. “Usually when a guy leaves, it’s ‘next man up.’ But that is someone that’s going to be hard to replace, especially in the room, off the field.”
On the field, truth be told, the replacement process got started a long time ago. Because of injuries, Lynch played in just eight games last year. He sat out the last seven games of the regular season and famously didn’t fly with the team to Minneapolis for its playoff win over the Vikings. Lynch returned the next week for the season-ending loss to Carolina, finishing his career, if it’s truly finished, with six carries for 20 yards and two catches for 15 yards.
Lynch’s sustained absences allowed first Thomas Rawls and then Christine Michael to flourish, and now those two will be asked to shoulder most of the load of replacing Lynch’s carries on a permanent basis. Doug Baldwin referred to them as “Thunder and Lightning” this week.
“Thomas is going to bring the thunder, and C-Mike, we call him ‘one-cut,’ ” he said. “He’s going to bring the lightning. We’ve got a lot of things that they each bring to the table, so when either of them are in the game we don’t miss a beat.”
It’s certainly worth noting that the Seahawks’ nearly historic offensive explosion in the second half last year came without Lynch — games in which the Seahawks scored 29, 39, 38, 35, 30, 23 and 36 points while going 6-1. Rawls led the league in yards per carry, and quarterback Russell Wilson had a five-game stretch in which he threw 19 touchdown passes without an interception.
That surge without Lynch wasn’t necessarily cause-and-effect, but it showed their attack could thrive without him. It also can be argued that the team, particularly the higher-ups, won’t miss the fuss that always seemed to kick up around Lynch, right up to the will-he-or-won’t-he drama that accompanied the Vikings playoff game. On Friday of that week, coach Pete Carroll declared Lynch was going to play, but then Lynch opted not to get on the plane.
The 2016 Seahawks, minus Lynch, still have a strong and dynamic locker room. It’s sprinkled with veterans who have grown up together in the Seahawks organization, including Baldwin, Wilson, Jermaine Kearse, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Avril, Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner and Wright.
The organization views that leadership as one of the team’s strength. The unity display that is planned for Sunday’s pregame is cited as an example of them pro-actively coming together to brainstorm a solution.
“There’s nothing like our locker room,’’ Baldwin said.
Added Sherman: “I think we have some of the most unique individuals that I’ve ever seen in my 28 years.’’
Carroll is counting on those veterans to provide guidance to the 15 rookies on the season-opening roster. And he says that, on the field, the vets have earned the freedom to take the game plan and extend the boundaries of what is prescribed by molding it to their strengths, and following their instincts in the heat of battle.
“Just think of it as in the world of performance,’’ Carroll said. “Dancers and musicians get better, they keep playing, and they take themselves into a different realm of freedom and improvisation that allows them to really express what they’re all about. Hopefully, in our world here, that’s what happens.’’
For the first time in a long while, it will happen in Seattle without the unique improvisational show that was Marshawn Lynch.