Facing the specter of a several game suspension for Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch, fans are rightfully concerned. Lynch is, more or less, the face of the franchise and makes up a big part of their offensive identity. Over the final eight games of 2011, Lynch led the NFL in rushing and helped the Seahawks to instill a tough, hard-nosed attitude and install a run-heavy offensive system. With his recent DUI arrest and charges though, he could conceivably miss the first several games of the year. Who will the Seahawks turn to if this becomes a reality?
Next in line behind Lynch is his presumptive backup, rookie running back Robert Turbin. The Seahawks purposefully went out and got a player that they saw as a nice complement and capable replacement for Lynch, who runs with a bruising style that can easily accrue injuries. Because Seattle didn't want to be left out in the cold in this case, as they were last season against Cleveland when Lynch was a late scratch with back spasms, they wanted a player with toughness to run inside, enough size to punish defenses and break tackles, and enough receiving/pass blocking ability to mask run/pass playcalling. In theory, Turbin brings all that, but obviously, he's a rookie and will face a steep learning curve. Still, I have confidence that Turbin can fill the void -- mid-round rookie running backs last year saw some success across the league, whether it was Roy Helu Jr, DeMarco Murray, Taiwan Jones, or Kendall Hunter.
Also a factor in the run game, Leon Washington should see some carries if Lynch is suspended. He's the Seahawks' dedicated punt and kick returner, but has potential in the run game as well as a change of pace to Turbin. Leon has nice burst and one of the traits that makes him a great kick returner -- an ability to put his foot in the ground and get downhill quickly -- is advantageous in the Seahawks zone-blocking scheme.
Also in the mix, there are several running backs vying for a roster spot that could have an impact early on. Tyrell Sutton was picked up during the offseason and showed some promise previously in his career in Carolina. He's a bit undersized, but has excellent balance and plays bigger than his 5'9, 211 frame. In that way, he reminds me a bit of Justin Forsett, so Sutton could be an option.
Also in the picture could be recently signed running back Kregg Lumpkin. Lumpkin packs a punch at 5'11, 228, and though he's not dynamic as a runner, he offers reliable hands in the passing game (40+ catches last year for the Bucs). Lumpkin would likely be used as a third down back behind Turbin and/or Washington, because of his experience in the league in picking up blitzes and in pass protection, and his abilities as a release or outlet receiver for what's likely to be an inexperienced quarterback for the Hawks.
Vai Taua, the former Nevada star running back, is also a possible option and could surprise with a spot on the roster. He's also not the most dynamic runner -- neither especially fast nor laterally explosive, but he rushes with toughness and physicality, and could operate in the Seahawks' scheme.
Finally, fullback Michael Robinson could see his carries increase. The leader in the lockerroom also can pack a punch as a between-the-tackles runner at 6'1, 240. Robinson could hear his name called in short yardage sitiuations and as a release/outlet option in the passing game as well.
All in all -- obviously, this is not the ideal situation. Lynch has a style and skillset that meshes perfectly with what the Seahawks want to do on the ground, and that's why he was given a new deal with $17 million in guarantees. But, if he can't go, the Seahawks have some options already on their roster.
Of course, if they don't feel comfortable with Turbin, Washington, Sutton, Taua, or Robinson carrying the load in the case that Lynch gets suspended, there are several free agents still on the market, including Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant.
For more on Marshawn Lynch and the rest of your Seattle Seahawks this offseason, make sure that you check out SB Nation Seattle's offseason StoryStream as well as Field Gulls, SB Nation's hopelessly devoted Seahawks blog.