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When push comes to shove
Just how good is Marshawn Lynch’s stiff-arm?
Just ask Tracy Porter, the Saints’ cornerback who Lynch deposited on his backside with a just-as-quick-as-it-powerful thrust of his left arm during the electrifying 67-yard touchdown run that shook Qwest Field and shocked the defending Super Bowl champions in the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff victory in January.
Never mind. Porter would just as soon forget his unforgettable run-in with Lynch’s secret weapon.
But others who have seen it – and especially those who have tasted it – know just how effective it can be in helping Lynch relocate would-be tacklers. The Seahawks have not had a back with a stiff-arm as sudden and powerful as Lynch’s since fullback John L. Williams was pushing his way into the Pro Bowl in the early 1990s. Ricky Watters could dish out a good one, but it didn’t pack the explosive wallop that Lynch delivers.
The origin of Lynch’s stiff-arm is as unclear as when and why he uses it.
“I don’t know where it comes from. It just kind of happens,” Lynch said Monday after a walk-thru at the team’s training camp. “It’s not anything planned, like, ‘OK, on this run I’m going to throw a stiff-arm or I’m going to run someone over.’
“I don’t plan any moves. I just react to what I’m faced with.”
Lynch is a full-service back capable of doing so many things. He has twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards (in each of his first two seasons with the Buffalo Bills). He has caught almost 50 passes (in his second season with the Bills). He has led two teams in rushing (the Seahawks last season and the Bills in 2007 and 2008). He has been to the Pro Bowl (in ’08). He rushed for 60-plus yards in each of his first 14 games with the Bills, which tied O.J. Simpson for the second-longest streak in franchise history.
But it’s the stiff-arm that seems to dominate discussions about his talents, especially after that one on his run in the nationally televised playoff game. Is Lynch surprised by this?
“No, I’m not surprised,” he said. “When I throw it, I’m pretty effective with it.”
It’s a move that is difficult to rehearse, as well, because you don’t want to inflect that on teammates.
“I like to practice my craft,” he said. “But in practice, I only put it out there when it’s necessary.”
Like the other day, when he had a friendly run-in with free safety Earl Thomas on the practice field.
“He tried, but he got my stiff-arm, too,” Thomas said with a defiant look that quickly turned into a smile before he added, “He’s a great running back. He runs with a lot of intent. It’s great to have him on our team.”
Especially when the Seahawks defenders are watching Lynch force-feeding that stiff-arm to opposing defenders.
“In the defensive room, we talk about having a tackling plan when you’re going against backs like that,” Thomas said. “So you need to know what you’re going to quick, or he’s going to bring the pain to you. So you’ve got to get him before he gets you.”
This has been a different training camp for Lynch, and not just because of the rushed nature of everything because of the 136-day lockout. It’s also dissimilar because it’s his first with the Seahawks. Remember, he wasn’t acquired in the trade with the Bills until the bye week last season and was “learning on the fly,” as he put it.
“Just to come in and start with the team, it gives you a little better presence,” Lynch said. “That first meeting is where they lay down the foundation of what you’re going to be looking for the rest of the season.
“Coming in this year and actually being able to be a part of that first meeting where they lay down the foundation, I got a better sense of where they’re coming from and what’s going on.”
What’s going on this season also is new, because Darrell Bevell has come over from the Minnesota Vikings to coordinate the offense and former Raiders head coach Tom Cable has joined him to oversee the running game.
Two things haven’t changed: The backs who will share the load with Lynch. That’s former college teammate and still best friend Justin Forsett and Leon Washington, who also joined the Seahawks last year in a trade with the New York Jets.
“To have those guys is a blessing because they put into perspective a lot of things that I would take for granted, as far as the little things,” the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Lynch said.
“And I’m not saying that because they’re little guys (Forsett is 5-8, 198; Washington 5-8, 203). But they actually pay attention to depth and lining up in the backfield, which can be critical on a play; where the aiming spot is on a certain run and when not to cut and when to cut. There’s just some things that I’ve been picking up from them, too, as well as Mike Rob (Robinson, the fullback).”
The camaraderie between these four, and their complementary styles, was noticeable in the preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego on Thursday night.
As Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc. wrote for ESPN.com: “Leon Washington stood out in Seattle's 24-17 win over the Chargers, showing decisiveness, running low and displaying his usual outstanding lateral agility and burst. Washington played a lot of snaps, and he appears poised to handle a bigger load on offense in addition to his special-teams contributions. I am also a big fan of Justin Forsett, and with a group effort in Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme the Seahawks could be much improved in the running game.”
Lynch is loving every aspect of it.
“To have them just in the backfield, period, has been a blessing for me,” he Lynch, 25. “Those guys are older than me (Forsett will be 26 in October; Washington will turn 29 this month). So I look at them as big brothers. You all know Justin has been great for me. Now that I know Leon a little better, he’s in that same boat, as well.
“We all complement each other, on and off the field. It works out for the best.”
Just as it did when Lynch stiff-armed his way into the end zone in the wild win over the Saints. It has been become his trademark, and even his calling card.
“I might look over at somebody’s phone that recognizes me, and they’re looking at it to make sure that that’s really me,” he said with a smile. “So I’ve seen it quite a few times.”