Marshawn Lynch's retirement means the Seahawks head into the 2016 season with more uncertainty at running back than they have had since acquiring Lynch in 2010. But with Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael returning, and with three draft picks—C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks—in the mix, that uncertainty is the cause of more excitement than it is concern as the Seahawks enter a post-Beast Mode era.
Rawls figures to be the frontrunner to win the starting job based on how well he played as a rookie, leading the NFL in rushing yards per carry while eclipsing 100 yards in four of six starts before suffering a season-ending injury early in his seventh start. But the way Rawls sees it, the expectations are the same for whoever is in the game, be it himself, Michael or a rookie.
"The expectation is for the position, so it doesn't matter if Thomas Rawls is back there, it doesn't matter if Christine Michael is back there, it doesn't matter if these other guys are back there," Rawls said after returning to practice Tuesday. "It doesn't matter. When you're in that backfield, you've got to be a Seattle Seahawk. So whenever you're back there, you're relentless, you're tough, you play with a passion. It's something so deep inside you, you've got to feel like you're the catalyst of this team when you're in the backfield to uphold the tradition, and that's something we're going to do."
Unlike in past years where Lynch was the clear-cut No. 1, with Robert Turbin, then later Fred Jackson serving as the third-down back, the Seahawk could decide to spread the workload around more this season, running backs coach Sherman Smith said during offseason workouts. One reason the Seahawks could use more of a committee approach is that backs who can do everything Lynch did are extremely rare, and another is that Seattle's backs all bring different strengths that give the Seahawks a lot of versatility.
Potentially spreading the workload around, whether it's with Rawls or Collins or Michael on early downs, or with Prosise and Brooks handling third-down and passing situations, could benefit everyone as the season goes on.
"It was kind of the same deal back in college," Collins said. "We had a two-back system where we split carries and it's kind of the same deal here. We rotate and it's good for us because it keeps us healthy and it keeps us fresh when we're in the game. I like that about it. I'd rather switch and rotate and be fresh and healthy so I have a chance to break free every play than be tired and injury prone while I'm out there. So I like what we've got going."
And while there is understandably a lot of excitement surrounding Rawls' return from the physically unable to perform list, and about the rookie newcomers, don't forget about what Michael can contribute this season. After being traded by the Seahawks before the start of last season, then released by two teams, Michael ended up back in Seattle late in the seasons to finish a humbling third season in the NFL. Playing with the kind of renewed focus that comes from having two teams cut you in a season, Michael turned a career-best 16-carry, 84-yard performance in his first game back with the Seahawks, then eclipsed that two weeks later with 102 yards on 17 carries at Arizona.
"I'm just taking my job more seriously, just making sure I know what I'm doing," Michael said. "I'm putting extra work in, studying, just doing the small things right so I can stay on the field. (Last season) was just a humbling experience, man. This is a good place. I'm surrounded by good people, it's a great organization, great facilities, it's just home. It's a great place to be."
Michael has matured to the point that, less than a year after the Seahawks sent him to Dallas for a seventh-round pick, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called him, "kind of the leader in the group now. You know, it's good. He's done a really nice job, he's prepared himself and he's come a long way. He's matured in so many ways; we're excited about what he brings. He's always been really explosive, and we're excited to have him here."
The Seahawks need to see more of Prosise and Brooks, who are both currently sidelined by hamstring injuries, before they can figure out their running back rotation, but however things shake out, they're excited about how things will look in a post-Lynch world.
Rookie running back Alex Collins hauls in a long touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Trevone Boykin at Sunday's scrimmage during the eighth practice of Seahawks training camp.