Familiar vision for Raiders’ Lynch
Running back to face former team in London
LONDON — Asked what it’s like watching Marshawn Lynch run with a football, Raiders teammate Jordy Nelson succinctly described the viewing experience.
“You feel bad for his body,” Nelson said, “and anyone in his way.”
Lynch, the Oakland running back, is known for delivering as much punishment as he has taken from defenders over 10-plus NFL seasons — including six with the Seattle Seahawks, whom he’ll oppose Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium for the first time since his abrupt departure in early 2016.
Yet despite his physical
playing style, at a position known for creating short NFL careers, Lynch, at age 32, is still running with trademark ferocity in his second season with the Raiders.
In Week 1 against the Rams, he took a handoff at the 10-yard line, met several defenders near the 4 and kept his feet churning as his line pushed him into the end zone for a touchdown. In Week 4 against the Browns, Lynch forced 11 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, while carrying 20 times for 130 yards, his biggest rushing output since 2014.
After the Cleveland game, offensive coordinator Greg Olson said coaches made a point of showing a play on which Lynch had the ball and was met by a defender near the sideline.
“Could’ve easily stepped out of bounds,” Olson said, “but continued to drive forward and get us another two, three yards with defenders in front of him. That’s the player he has always been.”
It’s certainly familiar to Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who had Lynch in Seattle and said on a conference call this week Lynch “looks in the same mode, aggressive and explosive.”
Lynch’s best years came after Buffalo traded him to Seattle early in the 2010 season. He made the Pro Bowl with 1,200-plus rushing yards every season from 2011-14, recording a career-high 1,590 yards in 2012 and leading the league in rushing touchdowns in 2013 and 2014.
He was a tone-setter for Seahawks teams that made consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, beating Denver in the first for Seattle’s only NFL championship. He is perhaps as well-remembered there for his two “Beast Quake” postseason runs as for his Super Bowl news conference in 2014 at which he repeatedly answered: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”
Notoriously media-averse, Lynch this week did not address facing his former team for the first time since his retirement in 2016, which he announced by posting a photo on Twitter of cleats hanging from a street wire. Some of his former teammates, though, spoke glowingly to Seattle media members about Lynch’s impact while with the team.
“He was amazing,” receiver Doug Baldwin said, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. “He brought a uniqueness. He was old-school, you know?
“He was genuinely who he was, whether it was in the media, at my house for my birthday, in the locker room, out on the street with his
family. It didn’t matter. He was who he was. And I think that speaks more volumes about the fun or the type of person that he was, that he brought to this locker room more so than anything.”
Lynch sat out one season before returning to play for his hometown Raiders, who faced the Seahawks in the preseason each of the past two years. Lynch did not play in either of those games but at one point caught up with Carroll, who made a note of Lynch’s physique.
“I remarked to him when I saw him the first time he came back around … just how fit he was,” Carroll said.
“I don’t know what he’s doing, but I would attribute that (longevity) to he’s really been diligent about maintaining his health and well-being and all.”
Olson said one of Lynch’s training techniques is to wear resistance bands around his legs during practice to increase his lateral strength. Running backs coach Jemal Singleton said Lynch is able to often absorb initial contact and gain extra yardage because of his “impeccable feet.”
“He’ll bump and his feet will still be underneath him as opposed to getting knocked over,” said Singleton. “He’s got size, strength, speed, feet. And he uses all those tools.”
Lynch gained 300 rushing yards in the Raiders’ first four games this season, fourth most in the NFL through Week 4, before being held to 31 yards last Sunday against the Chargers. He has been on the field for 50.3 percent of their offensive snaps — up from 45.7 percent last season — splitting backfield reps with Jalen Richard (35.4 percent) and Doug Martin (14 percent).
Head coach Jon Gruden said he relies on Singleton to monitor the running backs’ energy in games. Singleton said he’ll notice when Lynch needs a breather.
“I think when you play with the amount of passion and energy he plays with, you’re going to get tired,” Singleton said. “So he does, he gets gassed. But he’s a guy, he knows his body really well. He’s going to push himself to the limit.
“If he’s coming out, he needs to come out. And it doesn’t happen that often. He wants to be out there. He’s going to get tired now and then. But you’d be hardpressed to find a defender on the other side that sees when that happens. When he’s going, he’s going full speed.”
Singleton, who coached another potential Hall of Famer — Frank Gore — the previous two seasons with the Colts and in college before that, said Lynch is “just different.” That could be a tagline for the running back. Lynch has sat during the pregame national anthem since the start of last season without saying why. His lone media session this season came after a Week 3 loss at Miami, when he stood behind a garbage can and warned reporters not to cross his “barrier.”
When the Raiders form lines to stretch at practice, Lynch moves away to stretch on his own.
“I think it’s not detrimental to the team,” Singleton said of Lynch’s quirks. “And that’s the thing with Marshawn — he’s a great player, he’s a great teammate. You ask anybody. I think sometimes the image that may get picked up from a camera shot or watching practice isn’t the image we all see inside the building. For us, he goes out on Sunday, he plays his butt off unlike any other.”
Ask others how Lynch has reconciled his running style with his longevity and there will be different answers with a common theme. Quarterback Derek Carr said he thinks it “comes down to (Lynch) just wanting to impose his will.” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn described Lynch as a “very unsatisfied” runner who “wants every inch and every yard he can get.”
“I think it’s his attitude,” Nelson said. “You have to want to do it. Not everyone’s built, not only physically, but mentally, to take that pounding or deliver that pounding. I don’t know if he enjoys it or not. But he does a heck of a job doing it.”
Raiders running Marshawn Lynch totaled 300 rushing yards in the Raiders’ first four games this season.
Lynch (24) breaks away from a tackle by Saints defenders to score in an NFC wild-card playoff game in 2011. He won his only Super Bowl title with Seattle after the 2013 season.
* Through five games