Marshawn Lynch is reportedly “up in the air” about a possible return to football.
The Seahawks are anything but up in the air entering their first game in six years without the bedrock running back on the roster.
In fact, they keep telling everyone they will remain grounded for Sunday’s opener against the Miami Dolphins — and for this 2016 season — in their life without Lynch.
“We’re going to be who we are. I think we’ve always been a run-first team. I don’t want to shy away from that,” Seahawks sixth-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “We still want to be able to pound people. We want to make people have to finish the games and hitting them with big backs.
“I don’t think it’s going to change very much. Maybe style of runs has a chance to be different, but for the most part I don’t think much is going to change.”
Not philosophically, anyway.
But practically, at least in this first game, this is not going to be the running game the Seahawks had scheduled for this season.
Thomas Rawls, Lynch’s replacement as lead back, led the NFL in yards per carry last season. He became the first undrafted rookie to debut with two games of at least 160 yards rushing. That was while Lynch was limited to just seven games because of injuries. But Rawls enters this opener having returned to game action just last week. The preseason finale at Oakland was Rawls’ first game since he broke his ankle and tore ligaments on Dec. 13.
So as he works through what coach Pete Carroll and Bevell echoed will be his “second preseason game” on Sunday, he won’t be getting the number of plays and carries he will get in October and beyond. No. 2 back Christine Michael will start Sunday, with Rawls off the bench and working back towards his 20-carry workload.
Then again, that could prove to be fortuitous. Michael ran so well in training camp and the preseason, and Seahawks coaches and teammates now trust him.
That was the biggest reason Seattle gave up on Michael by shipping him to Dallas for next to nothing 12 months ago.
“It was me. I wasn’t doing my job,” Michael said of his first Seahawks stint from 2012-15. “I wasn’t as consistent every day as I am now. I was just being a little knucklehead, you know?
“But I did tell myself, ‘Damn, I think I’m going to be back there at some point in my career.’ And it happened sooner than I expected.”
Another reason Sunday won’t showcase the running game the Seahawks had designed: They had to change their blockers Wednesday, the day before the Dolphins flew the longest NFL in-country trip — 2,700 miles — to Seattle.
Germain Ifedi sustained what Carroll on Friday termed a “twisted” ankle; it needs more tests to determine its severity. So instead of the rookie they’d drafted in the first round to start from Day One at right guard, the Seahawks are moving J’Marcus Webb from backup right tackle to likely starting at right guard, which he was for the first 13 games of last season for Oakland.
“He’s just come in with that flexibility and he’s a really big guy and a really good pass protector, because he is so long,” Carroll said of Webb. “How could you lose a guy that’s 6’6”, long arms and I think 330 (pounds), and pick up another guy that’s the same, but I think a little taller?
“We’re very fortunate that if that’s the case and he jumps in for Germain, we’re going to be solid there.”
Still, these alternate plans for the run game are potentially dangerous developments against what is the one advantage the Dolphins appear to have on Seattle: their big-name, big-bucks defensive line lead by $114 million tackle Ndamukong Suh and aging pass rusher Mario Williams (96 sacks the last 10 seasons) against the home team’s offensive line that will have new starters at four of its five spots.
Though Miami almost inexplicably was 28th in the NFL against the run last season, Carroll admits this might not be the best way for Seattle to begin a season.
“Well, there are some things that may be better than that,” he deadpanned of facing the Dolphins’ front.
“They’re loaded. They’ve got terrific personnel. It’s going to be a great challenge for us. Hopefully all the work that our guys have done against our guys will help us. They’ve got some really notable players up front. Mario, Suh and those guys, they’re fantastic players. It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Of course, the Seahawks have Russell Wilson coming off the first 4,000-yard passing year in franchise history. Doug Baldwin returning after co-leading the league with a team-record 14 touchdown catches. Fellow wide receiver Tyler Lockett poised for a breakout year after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie kick returner last season and showing coaches he needs the ball more on offense in 2016.
Plus, star tight end Jimmy Graham is expected to play for the first time since he tore the patellar tendon in his knee Nov. 29.
So Seattle may be able to throw its way through the first couple weeks until Rawls is getting his full workload.
That is, of course, if this patched-again offensive line can provide adequate pass protection against the Dolphins’ defensive line Sunday, and versus the Rams’ always-formidable defensive front next week in Los Angeles.
The always-sunny Carroll thinks it can.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” the coach said of his seventh opener as Seattle’s coach. “Everything is on the up.
“I’m fired up for our players. They’ve put in a great deal of work. They’ve done it with great heart. And they’re really ready to go.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
MIAMI DOLPHINS at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Sunday, 1:05 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 7. Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.
Line: Seahawks by 10 1/2.
The series: Dolphins lead all-time series, 8-3. The last meeting was in Florida in November 2012, a 24-21 win for Miami. This is the Dolphins’ first game in Seattle since 2004, the Seahawks’ only win in five meetings over the last 20 years. This is also the farthest in-continent road trip in the NFL: 2,723 miles from the Dolphins’ home stadium to CenturyLink Field. Miami left for Thursday for Seattle, a day earlier than customary long NFL trips.
SEATTLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Hold that line: Whatever it ends up looking like. It’s been the story all offseason and preseason. And it got more so Wednesday when one of its apparent certainties, impressive rookie right guard Germain Ifedi, went out with a high-ankle sprain. Whether it’s previous backup right tackle J’Marcus Webb or whomever, Seattle will have four new starters on its offensive line against Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake and Miami’s rich, ballyhooed defensive front. An immediate test — and concern.
Get going early: Not just Sunday, in the Seahawks’ second season opener at home in six years, but this season. The early schedule — including at Los Angeles, versus San Francisco, at the Jets and home to Atlanta — is much more forgiving this year than last. That will go a long way to determining whether Seattle is playing at home or on the road should they reach their fifth consecutive postseason. Can’t give away games in September and October like they did last year if they are to get back to the Super Bowl.
Reed. And react: Miami is starting 30-year-old Arian Foster, the former Pro Bowl star with Houston, in his first game since an Achilles injury in October. The Dolphins want to use Foster and the run to temper the emotions of the Seahawks’ defense and the riled-up CenturyLink crowd, to make Ryan Tannehill’s passing more effective. Seattle drafted Jarran Reed in the second round to be the defensive tackle that doesn’t let running games get going, like Brandon Mebane did for nine years there before him. Reed is back from a toe injury to show how close he can be to Mebane’s effectiveness.
The pick: Seahawks, 23-9. With his offensive line changed again and running back Thomas Rawls not yet at full production, Russell Wilson’s quick throws trumps Tannehill trying to move the ball against Seattle’s refreshed defense that returns nine starters.
3 — Russell Wilson, QB (5-11, 215, fifth season): Iffy line again? He’s proven for four years he can make crazy, improvisational, decisive plays with or without blocking.
68 — Justin Britt, C (6-6, 315, third season): First game in NFL at center against Miami’s formidable D-line. Or will Britt be the fill-in RG?
90 — Jarran Reed, DT (6-3, 311, rookie season): Watch how 2nd-round pick plays Brandon Mebane’s old position far differently. Quicker, potentially more disruptive in backfields.
65 — Anthony Steen, C (6-3, 315, first season): Three-time Pro Bowl stud Mike Pouncey is out (hip). Steen, a college guard, making NFL debut. Seattle’s D-line salivating.
93 — Ndamukong Suh, DT (6-4, 305, seventh season): $114 million man will be an issue for Seattle’s new line and fill-in right guard.
29 --- Arian Foster, RB (6-1, 227, eighth season): Miami left Jay Ajayi at home. So it’s 30-year-old Foster, playing his first game since October Achilles tear, to take Seattle’s heat off Tannehill.
Gregg Bell: firstname.lastname@example.org