RENTON, Washington: How do you replace Marshawn Lynch?
Answer: You don’t — at least, that’s what the Seattle Seahawks are saying.
The personality of the man affectionately known as “Beast Mode” remains a mystery to those on the outside, but coaches and players in this locker room use words like “brother,” “legend” and “family” to describe Lynch.
“He’s such an extraordinary individual, that it’s not something you should even try,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told USA TODAY Sports in a recent interview.
“We were fortunate to be through it with him and have him be a part of our program. And what he did and what he brought to it and the direction and camaraderie that he was a part of — it was awesome.
“But we were kind of already moving (on) because he wasn’t able to play a lot last year. The guys are not surprised that he’s not here anymore and that he’s done playing. They knew. It’s not like it’s a big shock.”
When healthy, Lynch was one of the most punishing, determined and productive running backs in recent NFL history.
The emergence of second-year back Thomas Rawls, who ran for 830 yards and four touchdowns at a 5.6 yard-per-carry average last season when Lynch was limited to seven games with numerous injuries, is encouraging.
“Judging from what he did last year, it looks like he could be (the No. 1 running back),” Carroll said of Rawls. “We’re kind of counting on that. And whatever happens in camp and in the preseason, we’ll see.
“We’re always about competition, so we’ll just let it rip. Thomas was pretty special in the time he played with us. He’s a great kid. He’s tough as nails and gives us the hope that we will still be able to run the football and do the things that we want to hang our hat on and maintain the style that we want to play.”
Rawls is still recovering from a broken ankle sustained last December and was not available to be interviewed for this story. Carroll said, however, that he “absolutely” thinks Rawls will be ready for the start of the season.
The Seahawks also drafted three backs — Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise (third round), Arkansas’ Alex Collins (fifth round) and Clemson’s Zac Brooks (seventh round) — to create competition and build depth.
But perhaps the most interesting running back to watch is Christine Michael. He’s known for his special physical gifts but has taken a questionable approach to his preparation and work ethic in the past. The team drafted Michael in the second round three years ago but traded him to the Dallas Cowboys before the start of last season. Michael appeared in five games with Dallas, was released, and subsequently joined the Washington Redskins practice squad.
Seattle re-signed him last December, and then again in March, to help fill the void that Lynch leaves. In three games for the Seahawks in 2015, Michael rushed for 192 yards, averaging a solid 4.9 per attempt.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself as far as self-evaluation,” Michael told USA TODAY Sports. “I was just being a young guy, just being a knucklehead. I had to learn. I had to move around a lot.
“Some guys learn differently. Some guys have to go through things to get it right. Some guys learn it from their first time on the job. It definitely humbled me and made me a smarter player — a more grateful player.”
Michael said he shed some weight and feels quicker. Carroll called him a “different man.”
As training camp approaches and with Rawls appearing to have a grasp on the starting job, Michael looks like the favorite for the backup role. The rookies, however, will all compete for reps while giving Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel plenty of flexibility.
The running back meeting room is a little louder now without Lynch, according to those who spend time in it. The influx of rookies means there are constant questions.
But quiet as he was in public, and perhaps in pre-game meetings, Lynch carried a huge influence in the Seattle locker room.
“There’s nothing that we can do to fill that void,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, one of Lynch’s closest friends on the team, told USA TODAY Sports. “We just have to organically allow it to dissipate and for things to change and fill themselves. I think the biggest challenge is not so much what he did on the field, because obviously that’s a huge factor. It’s who he was as a person, as a teammate and as a friend off the field. That’s what we miss the most.”
Baldwin suggested in a tweet addressed to Carroll this offseason that, “Nobody wears #24 (Lynch’s) for years to come,” indicating it was a feeling shared by his teammates.
“But it’s just like anything else,” Baldwin added toUSA TODAY Sports. “It’s like graduating from high school and college, friends you’re going to leave behind.
“You have to move on.”