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Running in the right direction

Posted Mar 5, 2012

As important as Marshawn Lynch has become to the Seahawks' running game, offense and entire team, re-signing him to a multiyear contract on Sunday night had his teammates smiling and telling "Beast Mode" stories on Monday.

As Forrest Gump’s mama might have put it, “Special is as special does.”

Marshawn Lynch is one special player; because of the special things he is capable of doing on a football field. So his re-signing on Sunday night made for an especially giddy atmosphere at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Monday.

Lynch, the Seahawks’ leading rusher the past two seasons and the NFL’s leading rusher in the second half of the 2011 season, wasn’t going anywhere. If unable to reach agreement on a multiyear contract, the club would have designated Lynch its franchise player by today’s deadline – locking up his services for 2012 by tendering Lynch a one-year offer that was the average of the top five players at his position.

24 BY THE NUMBERS

A look at the statistics compiled by Marshawn Lynch during 2011, his first full season with the Seahawks:

1,204 rushing yards – a career-high for Lynch; the most by a Seahawks back since 2005, when Shaun Alexander ran for a club-record 1,880; the first 1,000-yard season by a Seahawks back since Alexander in ’05; the 12th-highest single-season total in franchise history.

13 touchdowns – a career-high for Lynch; the most by a Seahawk since 2005, when Alexander scored a then-league record 28.

11 consecutive games with a touchdown – a career-high for Lynch; Seahawks record, breaking Alexander’s mark of nine from 2005.

941 rushing yards in the final nine games – led the NFL, including a league-high 408 on second-down runs and 476 on first-down runs.

20-plus carries in a game – the Seahawks were 5-3 when Lynch got the ball that much, including 2-0 when he carried at least 25 times.

The longer-term contract, however, is a win-win situation. Lynch gets the financial security that comes with more guaranteed money, while the club secures Lynch’s special talents for more than one season – and at a more-friendly hit against this year’s salary cap. That leaves more to sign the other players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents March 13 – a list that starts with defensive end Red Bryant, but also middle linebacker David Hawthorne, the team’s leading tackler the past three seasons; Pro Bowl fullback Michael Robinson and tight end John Carlson.

But back to the special-is-as-special-does aspect of re-signing Lynch.

It didn’t take long for John Moffitt to realize the anything-can-and-often-does-happen nature of putting the ball in Lynch’s hands. The Seahawks selected Moffitt in the third round of the NFL Draft last year to be their starter at right guard. Because of the 136-day lockout, Moffitt didn’t practice with the team for the first time until July 29. But it didn’t take long for Lynch to leave a lasting impression.

“We were watching film of a practice early in training camp,” Moffitt said Monday, during a break in the rehabilitation process that has followed the season-ending knee injury he got in the Week 10 upset of the Baltimore Ravens.

“Marshawn jumped over the line, off his right leg. And then landed on his right leg. Which is very hard to do.”

The moment – and the movement – wasn’t lost on Tom Cable, the assistant head coach/offensive line coach.

“Cable was like, ‘Do you know anybody that can do that? Do you think anybody else in this room could do that?’ ” Moffitt said through a smile. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ ”

That was just the beginning for Moffitt, who then began paying even closer attention to the special-is-as-special-does aspect to Lynch’s game.

“You just see Marshawn do things that you don’t see people do very much,” Moffitt said.

Brandon Mebane can relate, and then some. The Seahawks’ nose tackle was at the University of California when Lynch showed up in 2004.

“When Marshawn first got there, I didn’t notice him a whole lot,” Mebane said Monday.

That changed in Cal’s season opener, when Lynch ran for 92 yards and a touchdown on only seven carries against Air Force.

“That was the first time I actually saw him play,” Mebane said. “Everybody was kind of like, ‘Oooh, who is this dude?’ That was my introduction to Marshawn and the first time I had that impression that he is special.

“Since then, he’s been doing that and even more.”

From J.J. Arrington’s backup that first season at Cal to 1,246- and 1,356-yard seasons in 2005 and 2006. From Cal’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher to first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills in 2007. From 12th pick overall in the draft to the Bills’ first 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie since Greg Bell in 1984. From rampaging rookie to Pro Bowl back in 2008. From Pro Bowl back to only six starts in 2009. From Buffalo to Seattle in October 2010, when the Seahawks traded a pair of middle-round draft choices to acquire Lynch.

But once in Seattle, it took Lynch awhile to get it going – as the team struggled to find its offensive identity. He led the Seahawks in rushing in 2010, with 573 yards. Through the first seven games last season, Lynch had 263 yards. That’s 836 yards in 18 games (he missed the Week 7 game against the Browns in Cleveland last season because of back spasms).

In the final nine games last season, Lynch went off for 941 yards – a league-leading total that included six 100-yard efforts and the continuation of a club-record streak of 11 consecutive games with a touchdown.

Special is as special does.

“I was always impressed with Marshawn, just his running style and the way he’s so hard to tackle and elusive,” Moffitt said. “The thing I really admire about Marshawn is just how hard he plays the game and how seriously he takes it.

“That’s what really makes him special.”

It’s when the Seahawks got serious about featuring the running game, and Lynch in it, that he started to do special things on an almost weekly basis last season. It started before the Week 9 game in Dallas when the Seahawks would be running into the Cowboys’ No. 4-ranked run defense – which just happened to be the week before the Seahawks would host Baltimore and the Ravens’ No. 3-ranked run defense.

Despite the odd timing of it, the Seahawks’ determination to feed their “Beast Mode” back paid off. Lynch carried the ball at least 20 times in eight of the final nine games, and the Seahawks went 5-3 in those games. Lynch ran for 135 yards against the Cowboys and then carried the ball a career-high 32 times against the Ravens, for 109 of the toughest-to-gain yards in his hard-running career. In a nationally televised Thursday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Lynch ran for a season-high 148 yards and scored twice – once on a 40-yard run, the other a 15-yarder.

When all was said and run, Lynch had posted career-highs in rushing yards (1,204) and touchdowns (13).

The offense has been built around the running game, and the primary legs in this run-to-set-up-the-play-action-passing-game approach belong to Lynch. That’s why signing him to a multiyear contract was a giant step in the right direction as the Seahawks move into their third season under coach Pete Carroll.

“I’m really glad they signed him,” Moffitt said, “because he’s just such a huge part of this team.”

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