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Originally published September 5, 2013 at 5:55 PM | Page modified September 6, 2013 at 10:43 PM

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Marshawn Lynch’s explosive patience powers Seahawks offense

Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch has been overshadowed by other story lines but is the key to team’s offense.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Seahawks @ Chargers, 10 a.m., Ch. 13

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T

he life-size cutout stands at the entrance of the Capitol Hill grocery store, greeting shoppers as they push their carts. There, trying to sell you coconut water in a V-neck, is a smiling Marshawn Lynch.

Yes, that Marshawn Lynch, the one who quietly sailed through preseason except for his grocery store tour de force.

Never much for attention, Lynch has gone about his business under the cover of bigger storylines (the addition – then injury – of Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson’s sophomore year, the injuries along the defensive line). And yet there’s no denying Lynch’s importance if Seattle is to meet lofty expectations.

“There’s not much to say,” receiver Doug Baldwin shrugged. “Marshawn is Marshawn. We know what he’s capable of.”

Offensive lineman Russell Okung has another theory: “Because you can’t get a quote out of him, that’s why.”

Indeed, Lynch has yet to talk to reporters since arriving in Seattle in May, but coach Pete Carroll said he’s never seen him this sharp heading into a season — and he said Lynch has been locked in for the past six months.

Lynch is coming off the best season of his seven-year career. He posted career highs in yards (1,590) and yards per carry (5.0) while finishing with his second-most touchdowns (11). After struggling his first year with Seattle in 2010 — 573 yards, 3.5 yards per carry — he posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the first time since his first two years in the league.

“Ever since he got to this team, it’s been nothing but positive,” safety Earl Thomas said. “He’s basically the concrete of the offense.”

What catches your eye when watching Lynch is the power, the way he sheds tackles and explodes through defenders, but it undercuts the finer points of his ability.

Lynch is a master at finding the balance between explosiveness and patience. It’s the biggest difference between him and Seattle’s younger backs, who still haven’t developed the patience to let holes open along the line.

“When you turn on the film, he does such a great job of going slow to the hole and then exploding through it,” said Heath Evans, a former fullback and current analyst with the NFL Network. “He has this patient understanding of when to hit it and when to tempo his speed. And when he hits it, nobody wants to hit him. It’s a rare ability to have all the things he combines. I’m telling you, he’s one of the few guys I get tickled to watch each week because he does it the right way.”

The Seahawks’ media packet touts that since Week 9 of the 2011 season, no one in the NFL has rushed for as many yards as Lynch. And the Seahawks, as a whole, rank first in rushing yards since then.

It’s no coincidence that offensive-line coach Tom Cable points to 2011 as the year Lynch really captured Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme, one that demands trust and patience from running backs. Cable described Lynch’s running style early in his pro career as, “Here’s the football, find the opening and go.” That changed in 2011, when Lynch became more in-tune with what was happening up front and the restraint required to let it unfold.

The best way to understand the moving parts of a zone scheme is this: “It’s kind of like the running back is the chorus conductor, but you’re behind the band,” Evans said. “So the band can’t see you leading, but they’ve just been taught what they’re supposed to do.”

Seattle’s offensive linemen don’t look for certain defenders to block; they aim for points they need to get to. Either through his pacing or how many steps he takes in the backfield, Lynch often tries to manipulate linebackers or defensive linemen into spots that allow his offensive linemen to more effectively block them.

“He constantly puts them in the right position,” Evans said. “There are so many running backs who abandon the scheme. They’ll see this flicker of light where the play is not designed to go and think there’s a big play waiting to happen. But you can just demoralize the whole blocking scheme if you’re not consistent with what the play is designed for.

“Marshawn knows what defender he needs to put on his right guard. He knows what defender to put on the center and he knows how many steps he needs to take to get that linebacker sucked up enough so the offensive tackle can get on him.”

And when Lynch reads an opening along the line, he takes it, combining lower-the-shoulder power with deceptive shiftiness.

Lynch carried the ball only five times all preseason in order to save his body, but the Seahawks know what to expect once the regular season starts Sunday.

“Marshawn embodies who we are as an offense,” Okung said. “Tough, physical, fast, explosive. That’s who he is. You know anytime he gets the ball, he’s going to fight his tail off.”

Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or jjenks@seattletimes.com

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