With Justin Forsett headed to Houston, the Beast-Force era comes to a close. Adding Robert Turbin signals the dawn of the Beast-Hulk era. I know "Turbinator" has been kicked around but seeing that "Hulk" is the nickname Turbin prefers, I'm stickin with "the other guy," as Mark Ruffalo put it. Not to mention that he's about six inches too short to be a Terminator and "Beast-Hulk" has a better ring to it than "Beast-inator."
Now onto the meat of this article. One of the Carroll/Schneider philosophies that I gravitate toward most is the "never take anything for granted" approach to player evaluation which we've heard about so often from John Schneider. I get the impression that this constant reevaluation continues long after the draft. Although it seems implied that a GM would have a strong grasp of each player's standing within an organization, I believe that Schneider really excels in this area.
As an analyst who mostly deals with player evaluation, I really try to embody this philosophy. Recently I've focused my thoughts on our new running back tandem and several mis-perceptions surrounding them. The first of which is that Marshawn Lynch is a violent, punishing running back, an image the national media has deliberately perpetuated. Before your head explodes in outrage for me saying something so blasphemous, allow me to explain.
Lynch is as physical as any RB in the league. He wouldn't be Beast Mode if he wasn't. However he's not a Mack Truck charging downhill to demolish anything in his path. When Marshawn prepares for contact, he lowers his shoulder and braces for it, but rarely drives through the tackle (except near the goalline - thumbs up). He rather stays upright at any and all costs. That is Beast Mode at his core.
With his absurdly bow-legged running style and all around crazy demeanor, Marshawn is ready to break tackles in whichever direction necessary to stay on his feet. That's why Tracy Porter was all by his lonesome tumbling to the ground. That's why Ray Lewis ate turf on third and five. Such determination is what makes Lynch so unique and dangerous. If defenses don't bring their A-game and don't finish their tackles, the Beast will feast. Guaranteed.
This approach to tackle-breaking has definitely cost him though, and the team, most notably in the Yards Per Carry department. How many times have we seen Marshawn corralled and pushed back for no gain or a loss when he probably could have driven forward for two or three? Many, many times I would say. In the latter half of 2011, Tom Cable helped Lynch minimize the number of plays like this by encouraging him to embrace the zone blocking system. He now hits the hole a lot faster, providing consistency to reach the second level which he previously lacked.
The way Marshawn bounces off contact has assisted him with more than just tackle-breaking. Punishment usually goes both ways so avoiding the violent running style of say, Marion Barber, has helped Lynch remain durable. Injuries are inevitably with any back who runs so physical. But escaping major trauma will make that $31 million money well spent.
The second mis-perception I'd like to address is that Robert Turbin = Marshawn Lynch, the lesser. Turbin is a very different beast (see what I did there?).
One look at the college, dread-locked, Robert Turbin and it's easy to see how such a mis-perception could become established. The film doesn't lie though. Turbin doesn't break tackles the way Marshawn does. He hardly breaks any tackles at all to be honest. You see more tackles which you expect him to break, but doesn't, than actual broken tackles. He could easily improve in this area but it will never be a strength for him.
What Turbin does do is punish defenses. He is very much that Mack-Truck charging downhill to demolish anything in his path. Turbin rarely falls anywhere but forward and he usually takes at least one defender for a ride. This fits nicely with his assumed role on the team. When spelling Marshawn in the second half, we're probably looking to wear down defenses and grind out victories. If Marshawn is hurt, Turbin's power driving forward will help our running game remain consistent in the absence of our franchise back.
Several sources, including Pete Carroll, have noted the quickness Turbin displayed at mini camps. There's no doubt that he has rare explosiveness for a back his size. However it's worth stating that without pads or contact, he didn't experience much resistance reaching the hole. Turbin had a tendency to dance too much behind the line of schrimage in college. Like Lynch, Turbin must adjust to the blocking scheme and hit the hole faster to consistently achieve success. I fully expect him to do so. The only question is, how quickly will he pick it up?
The excitement surrounding our running game is well warranted. Beast-Hulk could easily become one of the more feared running back tandems in the league. Lynch stresses the defense and Turbin punishes it. Talk about an offensive identity. Whether you agree with my assessment of Beast-Hulk or not, I think we can all agree about potential of this backfield.