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Originally published Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 8:04 PM

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With Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks will always fear the unknown

As long as he is a prominent member of the Seahawks, Lynch will be defined by a duplicitous kind of fear. There's the good fear: the concern would-be tacklers have whenever he rumbles in their direction. And there's the bad fear: the concern the Seahawks and their fans must live with every day because they never know what their franchise player is up to.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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Marshawn Lynch, often quirky and sometimes crazy, just might be the most unpredictable franchise player in sports. Even his surprises are unsurprising. Really, the only constants with Lynch are his Skittles addiction and his pulverizing running style.

For the most part, the Seahawks running back is a mystery. Some might call him an enigma, and maybe I would, too, if he didn't cause an earthquake a few years back. He's capable of almost anything, good or bad. If he went around rescuing cats from trees, that would be very Marshawn. If he were into something far more objectionable, that would also be very Marshawn. He's a character, for sure, albeit one without a script. He manages to be one of the most popular stars in Seattle without surrendering a level of inconspicuousness that could make Ichiro marvel.

Well, except when he gets in trouble.

Lynch, who signed a four-year contract extension in March that includes $18 million guaranteed, was arrested in California last week, and he has since been charged with DUI. For the first time since he joined the Seahawks in 2010, the running back's off-the-field issues — which included a misdemeanor weapons conviction and three-game suspension three years ago — have become an issue.

With training camp set to begin next week, and with the Seahawks counting on Lynch to be a driving force in their attempt to have their first winning season since 2007, he picked a bad time to exhibit poor judgment. Even if Lynch beats this charge, he made a foolish decision driving with alcohol in his system and putting himself in a position to get pulled over at 3:42 a.m. Maybe Lynch's lawyer, Ivan Golde, is the next Johnnie Cochran, but in the court of court of public opinion, his defense that Lynch was merely headed toward drunkenness — but not there yet! — when police stopped him is the silliest technicality ever argued.

But let's not focus too much on technicalities or even premature debate about NFL punishment. That will all play itself out in time. The prevailing issue is that the mercurial Lynch, for as long as he is a prominent member of the Seahawks, will be defined by a duplicitous kind of fear.

There's the good fear: the concern would-be tacklers have whenever he rumbles in their direction.

And there's the bad fear: the concern the Seahawks and their fans must live with every day because they never know what their franchise player is up to and whether his actions could tear apart a good thing.

That's the deal with Lynch. When you commit to him, you commit to that headache. The Seahawks knew it when they traded for him two years ago, and even though he had been a good citizen in Seattle, they had to know it when they offered him such a fat contract. As someone who advocated that Lynch get paid, I also knew it — and ignored it.

Despite all the cute stories about his love of Skittles, despite his famous Beast Quake run against New Orleans in the playoffs, you had to recognize the risk with Lynch. The Seahawks have created a great locker-room environment, and he seems to have matured and mellowed because of his new surroundings, but that doesn't eliminate the risk.

So, why bother? Because there are only a handful of running backs who run with such purpose. And even when you whittle down the list, there's only one Marshawn Lynch. There are a few better backs in the NFL, but Lynch is the only one who can inspire the brand of rugged, run-through-you style of offense that the Seahawks want to make their identity.

Over the second half of last season, Lynch played like the best running back in the league. In the final nine games of the season, he rushed for 941 yards and nine touchdowns and hit triple digits rushing six times. It took the Seahawks five years to go from Shaun Alexander's departure to their next mail-carrying tailback. They were right to take a chance on trading for Lynch, and when he produced, they made an easy decision in rewarding the 26-year-old.

He's not a bad dude. He has tremendous football character (great teammate, hard worker, humble). But Lynch has yet to show that he can stay out of his own way. The Seahawks will never lose sleep worrying about Lynch's competitiveness. Problem is, they're already awake fretting over how he occupies his time when he's not carrying a football.

His nickname is Beast Mode. There's a reason it isn't Priest Mode.

The Seahawks are OK with that. Their $18 million pledge says so. Surely, though, that scares them, too.

The face of the franchise is capable of anything. He'll give a scholarship to a gunshot victim one day and get a DUI the next. Lynch's behavior is the ultimate X factor, unless he decides to turn it into a Y or Z.

Long live the Beast.

And pass the Advil, please.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com

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