Lynch is heart and soul of Seahawks

RENTON — Three weeks since the threat of a healthy fine helped nudge Marshawn Lynch out of season-long media silence, the Seattle Seahawks running back still isn’t saying a lot.

But you can’t miss the sincerity in his brevity when Lynch says he’s “very thankful” that his career brought him to Seattle in a 2010 trade.

“I’m just happy with the situation I’m in,” the running back said.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to the Seahawks, the feeling it mutual. As much as Seattle’s defense has led the way in getting the Seahawks to Sunday’s NFC championship game, and as much as Russell Wilson, along with head coach Pete Carroll, have become the faces of the franchise, Marshawn Lynch is still the team’s identity. He is the team’s heart and soul, saying far more with his play than with any words he might ever speak in a brief media session.

“Our identity is through him,” offensive line coach Tom Cable said.

Lynch isn’t just responsible for gaining yards on the ground, something he’s done plenty of since coming here early in the 2010 season — 4,624 yards and 41 rushing touchdowns in less than four full seasons. He’s also responsible for setting the game’s tone.

“His running style definitely epitomizes what we want to be about in this program: aggressiveness, straining, all those type of things,” fullback Michael Robinson said. “Definitely when we see him getting going, it’s a boost to the team.”

Lynch as the Seahawks’ identity and one of their most important players seems so normal now. However, it was anything but a given when he arrived in Seattle four games into the 2010 season. Lynch had his issues in Buffalo, both with his team and with the law, and while the risk was low — Seattle gave up a 2011 fourth-round pick and a 2012 pick that became a fifth-rounder based on Lynch’s play — the reward for the Seahawks was hardly a sure thing.

Yet despite not knowing for sure how Lynch would respond to a change of scenery, Carroll was determined to find out. Carroll had coached against Lynch at the college level, and understood what the running back could bring to a team, so he and general manager John Schneider tried to persuade the Bills to make a trade before the 2010 season. That didn’t happen, but enough phone calls and persistence eventually did the trick, and the Seahawks landed not just a Pro Bowl running back, but the player who epitomizes their smash-mouth style.

“Honestly, this is exactly what I had hoped for,” Carroll said. “I hoped it would turn on out like this. I hoped that he would get a new lease on life, we would get the benefit of him jumping into a situation where he was going to be appreciated and understood and utilized, and I just hoped that it would turn out like this.

“Now I can’t tell you I thought it was going to be three years of a thousand yards and 10-plus touchdowns or whatever the heck it is. I didn’t know that. I think the really exciting part of it is how he’s responded to the opportunity. He has maxed it out and he has captured us, really our club, with his leadership and his toughness and his style of play.”

Lynch’s explanation of his feelings about the trade, not surprisingly, was a little less in depth than Carroll’s.

“I was excited,” Lynch said.

Of Carroll, Lynch said: “He just gives you the opportunity to be yourself.”

And that’s a big reason why Lynch has become a three-time Pro Bowl player in Seattle. Carroll is happy to let Lynch be a Skittle-munching, fun-loving, quirky guy because he also knows he has not just one of the game’s most determined runners, but also a player who, as Cable has said on multiple occasions, possesses an unusually high football IQ.

Lynch’s game is all brutality on the surface, but the man is much more complex, even if he rarely shares that with the public. And that’s his prerogative. Fans won’t mind, especially not if he keeps having playoff performances like last week’s 140-yard, two-touchdown effort against New Orleans.

On Sunday, the Seahawks will be looking for another big game out of Lynch, who is one of few running backs to enjoy success against the 49ers, averaging 98.2 yards per game in his past five games against San Francisco. And if he carries Seattle to its second Super Bowl and his first — the Bills had losing record in each of his three seasons there — Lynch and the Seahawks will be forever grateful for that 2010 trade that almost never happened.

“I couldn’t be happier for the way it’s turned out for the club and for him, and he’s maxed out this opportunity,” Carroll said. “It’s been a beautiful thing.”

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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