Is it getting too late to marvel at Marshawn Lynch some more?
Or is it fair to retrospectively re-evaluate his ball-carrying mastery with every week the Seattle Seahawks fail to find even a modest facsimile of Lynch?
He was never taken for granted in Seattle, where his talent and toughness were truly incomparable in franchise history.
But we grew to expect his tempered-steel durability.
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And that may be a factor in the Lynch Legend that we are only now coming to understand.
He played through a steady series of sore ankles and hips and abs, and a balky back.
But given the way he played the game, as if out to punish defenders for having the audacity to try to bring him down, he seemed very uncommonly indestructible.
And that’s what makes it apparent, increasingly and evermore, that he is irreplaceable.
Look back, in awe, if you will, at the seasons when the Seahawks were fashioning the early part of this run of success, when Lynch carried the ball 1,060 times through the 2012-14 regular seasons and postseasons.
That’s averaging more than 350 carries a season, and gaining 4.66 yards every attempt. On some plays, four or five defenders or more would hit him. The cumulative pounding is inconceivable.
Yet he kept saddling up at game time.
Here we are, heading into the final game of the first post-Lynch season, and it looks as if the leading rusher for 2016 will be Christine Michael, a back who was released as dispensable after the ninth game of the season.
And the Seahawks are ranked an uncharacteristic 22nd in the league in rushing, having gone through so many backs because of injuries you couldn’t remember all their names.
The depth chart Sunday for the final regular-season game lists Thomas Rawls as the likely starter (coming off a shoulder injury), with rookie Alex Collins (24 career carries) as the backup.
The other three on the depth chart are J.D. McKissic, Terrence Magee, and injured rookie C.J. Prosise.
Who among them can stay healthy? Or equally in question: The Seahawks have guys named McKissic and Magee?
“It has been a topic of the year, I think, very specific to that position,” coach Pete Carroll said of the injuries. “It is a big-risk position, it’s no question, and some guys can just keep going and chugging.”
Carroll cited Arizona running back David Johnson, who has picked up more than 2,000 yards rushing and receiving this season. But those guys are rare and those kinds of seasons tend to be fleeting.
Rawls was the apparent heir to Lynch, leading the NFL in yards per carry last season (5.6) while taking over for the injured Lynch. But since breaking his ankle in mid-December, Rawls has missed all or large portions of 13 regular season and postseason games.
If he can rush for 135 yards on Sunday, he can take over the team’s rushing lead from the departed Michael, a former second-round draft pick whose chance at replacing Lynch was squandered when he failed to mature into the role.
Wrist and shoulder injuries have limited third-round pick Prosise to just 30 carries. Those included a 72-yard touchdown against Philadelphia. How good can he be is a mystery until he can stay healthy enough to prove it.
Collins just had his best game of the season, rushing for 28 yards after Rawls was injured in the loss to Arizona.
The run blocking of the line has been erratic, and injuries to quarterback Russell Wilson have caused his rush numbers to be halved. Both have been factors diminishing the Seahawks’ rush totals.
Whomever gets the carries on Sunday against the 49ers, he should find it easy going. San Francisco has surrendered 100-plus yards to 11 opposing backs this season, and have the worst rush defense in the NFL.
Ideally, for the Seahawks, that would be Rawls.
Wednesday at his locker, Rawls reported his return to health, and added that he’s pretty committed to sustaining his approach as a back who runs instinctively, with an aggressive attitude.
That’s exactly what they liked about Lynch.
But they especially liked it when he could do it week after week, season after season, either avoiding injury or simply ignoring them.
It’s not something you can coach or teach, and you can’t really even scout it.
But when you find a back who can pull it off, you have to cherish him dearly while you can, and remember him fondly once he’s gone.