The Seahawks are never going to replace Marshawn Lynch. No way, there’s never going to be another Marshawn.
I hear that from fans all the time.
But why is that so impossible? Why such heresy to even consider it?
Who’s to say Thomas Rawls can’t turn into that running back?
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Lynch was undeniably special, with an unparalleled force of will. I’d even say that he displayed a degree of steely toughness over time that matched just about anybody who ever played in the NFL — at least in the “modern era,” after they stopped making Butkuses and Nitschkes and Bednariks.
Teammates were endlessly inspired by Lynch, and opponents started diving for his shoe-tops whenever he headed in their direction.
He was a certifiable character who appealed to fans, but the root of it all was his rare ability to change the course of a game with a single earthshaking run.
Yes, it surely would take a generational type of player to “replace” him.
So, how about a reasonable facsimile then?
Thomas Rawls, let’s say.
This kid, in just his second season with the Seahawks, at age 23, has a lot going for him.
He’s off to an impressive start. Starting out at Michigan, Rawls finished up at Central Michigan and went undrafted, although the best marks of his combine and pro-day testing were very similar to those of Lynch’s when he came out of California as a first-round pick.
Rawls made such an impression on coach Pete Carroll in the early offseason and training camp last season that the Hawks decided to keep him as Lynch’s understudy and be done with veterans Christine Michael and Robert Turbin.
Carroll loved Rawls’ aggressive style and toughness, but he couldn’t be sure it would translate to the league until he started getting some chances in real games. “As soon as he got going, he demonstrated he was a big-play guy, very explosive, very aggressive,” Carroll said. “He brought great attitude and really added to the whole make-up of our style of play.”
And as the toll of the years wore down Lynch, Rawls took over in sometimes stunning fashion — rushing for 209 yards against San Francisco and 169 vs. Cincinnati last season. He ended up leading the NFL in yards per rush with a 5.6 yard average.
A broken ankle in mid-December ended his season, but it set him on such a dedicated rehabilitation regimen that it impressed his Seahawks teammates.
After Rawls ran for 104 yards against the Panthers on Sunday night, quarterback Russell Wilson called his comeback a testament to his character, and labeled him “an ultimate competitor,” who was so passionate about the game and performing for his teammates that “you expect greatness out of him.”
Rawls brings some uncommon intangibles with him, too. He has that rare infectious energy that sometimes defines a leader.
Before the game Sunday night, when the team was gathered to pump up their collective energy, Rawls repeatedly rose above the crowd of taller players. He just kept jumping in place, with boundless exuberance.
Rawls wants to be great so badly it causes him to levitate.
That competitive energy was stored up when he missed time last season, and when a fracture in his leg shelved him for seven games this season.
“You’ve seen us without him, and we’re different,” Carroll said Monday. “He’s a very unique football player. I thought (Sunday) night was a vivid example about the kind of running he brings our football team. It’s not just the big plays, it’s all the plays, attacking the tacklers and defenses and creative breaks and cuts, and the instincts he has.”
A few numbers to consider. That 209-yard game Rawls’ rookie season stands impressively against the 157 yards that was Lynch’s career high in his entire career.
Rawls has five 100-yard-plus rushing games in his first 10 starts. It took Lynch 25 games to get that many. Rawls’ 5.6-yard average over 147 carries last season edges Lynch’s career-high of 5.0.
His style would be hard to emulate Lynch’s, but Rawls certainly runs tough and seeks out contact. Lynch carried the ball 250 or more times in six seasons, topping out with more than 300 carries in three seasons if you count playoffs.
Rawls, meanwhile, hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. He’s only played in 18 NFL games, and started just 10. He’s missed nine games with injury in less than two full seasons.
Rawls has such promise, though, and is so obviously a factor to the Seahawks’ prospects for success.
Wilson expects greatness of him, and maybe fans should, too. He can become great even if he’s something that doesn’t quite replicate the famed Beast Mode.
But he will need to prove over time, and not only with excellence and toughness, but also durability.