With Marshawn Lynch facing a possible suspension, there's certainly reason for concern as to who might take his spot on the offense. Lynch is, more or less, the face of the franchise and makes up a big part of their offensive identity. Over the final eight games of 2011, Lynch led the NFL in rushing and helped the Seahawks to instill a tough, hard-nosed attitude and install a run-heavy offensive system.
Seahawks GM John Schneider talked, earlier this offseason, about the reasons that they targeted and re-signed Lynch."When we got here," he said, "we talked about an identity, and creating an identity, and getting ourselves into a position where we were a consistent championship caliber football team. In order to do that in this league, you need to knock people around. You need to play strong, tough, smart, physical football."
He continued. "We thought, in acquiring Marshawn, that he would add that, not only on the field, but in the locker room as well and in the way he practices. He's done that, and you're always concerned about the way running backs don't hold up from a durability standpoint, but this guy - he is a seriously tough individual. He's the kind of guy that only knows one way to run, and that rubs off on the other guys, the other players here. It rubs off on our defense."
There's a sort of described symbiotic relationship between Lynch and the offensive line, too. Those guys, from what I've heard from beat writers several times, love blocking for Beast Mode and they inherit an an energy or mentality from him. "So," said Schneider, "he brings an identity for us, it was very important that we signed him to a long term deal, and we were just ecstatic to get that done before free agency started."
Now, with his recent DUI arrest and charges though, he could, conceivably, miss the first several games of the year. Who will the Seahawks turn to if this becomes a reality?
My first guess would be his presumptive backup, rookie running back Robert Turbin. The Seahawks purposefully went out and got a player that they saw as a nice complement and capable replacement for Lynch, as the BeastMo runs with a bruising style that can easily accrue injuries. Because Seattle didn't want to be left out in the cold in this case, as they were last season against Cleveland when Lynch was a late scratch with back spasms, they wanted a player with toughness to run inside, enough size to punish defenses and break tackles, and enough receiving/pass blocking ability to mask run/pass playcalling. In theory, Turbin brings all that, but obviously, he's a rookie and will face a steep learning curve. Still, I have confidence that Turbin can fill the void -- mid-round rookie running backs last year saw some success across the league, whether it was Roy Helu, DeMarco Murray, Taiwan Jones, or Kendall Hunter. In particular, I like Turbin's explosiveness, and think this could be a nice match for the Seahawks' zone scheme which asks you to pick a crease, explode through it and get to top speed quickly.
Leon Washington is still in the picture, assumedly. Leon should see some carries if Lynch is suspended, and though he's mainly the Seahawks' dedicated punt and kick returner, he does have some potential in the run game as well as a change of pace to Turbin. Leon has nice burst and one of the traits that makes him a great kick returner -- an ability to put his foot in the ground and get downhill quickly -- is advantageous in the Seahawks zone-blocking scheme. When you watch Leon run, he's almost robotic in his cuts and jukes, and I mean that in a good way. They're sudden and deliberate, and he breaks a lot of arm tackles because of it.
Past Turbin and Washington, there are several running backs vying for a roster spot that could have an impact early on. Tyrell Sutton was picked up during the offseason and showed some promise previously in his career in Carolina (and with John Schneider's Green Bay Packers). He flashed with the Panthers but was stuck behind DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson, and he was released. He's a bit undersized, but has excellent balance and plays bigger than his 5'9, 211 frame. He's also apparently very good in the passing game and can return kicks, so in those ways, he reminds me a bit of Justin Forsett.
Also in the picture could be recently signed running back Kregg Lumpkin. Lumpkin was signed, ostensibly, as a backup to Lynch because he's got size and some versatility. He's a big back at 5'11, 228, and though he's not dynamic as a runner, he offers reliable hands in the passing game (40+ catches last year for the Bucs). Lumpkin, if he makes the roster, would likely be used as a third down back behind Turbin and/or Washington, because of his experience in the league in picking up blitzes and in pass protection, and his abilities as a release or outlet receiver for what's likely to be an inexperienced quarterback for the Hawks.
Vai Taua, the former Nevada star running back, is also a possible option and could surprise with a spot on the roster. From what I hear, he's also not the most dynamic runner, rather a north-south type of straight line guy, and is neither especially fast nor laterally explosive, but he rushes with toughness and physicality, and could operate in the Seahawks' scheme.
Finally, fullback Michael Robinson could see his carries increase. The leader in the lockerroom also can pack a punch as a between-the-tackles runner at 6'1, 240. Robinson could hear his name called in short yardage sitiuations and as a release/outlet option in the passing game as well.
All in all -- obviously, this is not the ideal situation. Lynch has a style and skillset that meshes perfectly with what the Seahawks want to do on the ground, and that's why he was given a new deal with $17 million in guarantees. But, if he can't go, the Seahawks have some options already on their roster. The interesting thing about the zone blocking scheme is that it's been known to pluck backs from obscurity and produce high-yardage and effective running backs out of seemingly nowhere. Running in the scheme requires a bit of a different skillset, slightly less dependent on top-end speed or explosive change of direction and more suited to decisiveness and ability to correctly pick the right seam and read the offensive linemen. Arian Foster went undrafted, afterall. That said, precedent in this idea does not mean the Seahawks have a guy like that on the roster, so there is certainly cause for concern.
Of course, if they don't feel comfortable with Turbin, Washington, Sutton, Taua, or Robinson carrying the load in the case that Lynch gets suspended, there are several free agents still on the market, including Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant.