Lynch is back, but does anyone care?

Lynch stretchingMarshawn Lynch is back. But does anyone care?

Lynch was listed as questionable before practice Friday, but coach Pete Carroll said after practice, “He looked really back to full health. … He made it out, looked good, and we’re counting on him playing (Sunday vs. the Carolina Panthers).”

It wasn’t even close to the most compelling storyline for media this week, though. On Wednesday, 11 questions were asked before the topic of Lynch came up. On Friday, Lynch was the 14th question — partly obscured by news that fullback Derrick Coleman had been suspended after his arrest for hit-and-run.

One of the dumb questions asked by a reporter Wednesday: Does Lynch take his old job back? To which Carroll scoffed, “Heck yeah. I think he’s earned that.”

Of course he has. The Seahawks aren’t paying him $12 million this year to have him sit on the bench, especially after he has run for at least 1,200 yards in each of the last four seasons, scoring 56 touchdowns.

But people now seem more interested in whether rookie upstart Thomas Rawls will continue to get playing time.

Once considered the Seahawks’ heart and soul on offense, Lynch was hardly missed for the two and a half games he was out. Rawls eclipsed 100 yards twice — proving the truth of what we said way back in February: The Seahawks don’t really need Lynch.

Now everyone else has jumped on that idea, having seen what has been clear for years: Tom Cable’s zone blocking system manufactures good running games because it is usually better than the sum of its parts.

The offensive line struggled to get much push vs. Green Bay — Lynch gained just 41 yards on 15 carries and the Seahawks rushed for a mere 119 yards (78 on scrambles by Russell Wilson).

The unit did well in a 26-0 win over Chicago; even as Lynch carried just five times, Rawls ran for 104 yards on 16 carries as the Seahawks gained 159 on the ground. But the line regressed against Detroit; Rawls gained just 48 yards on 17 attempts and the team netted 110.

Then came the Bengals game, in which the group created several walls that helped Rawls tally 169 yards and propelled the Seahawks to the No. 1 rushing spot in the NFL once again (they finished as the best last season, too). And they have gotten there almost entirely without Lynch, who was AWOL even before he got hurt.

Even with Lynch, Seattle could not beat the St. Louis Rams or Green Bay. And Lynch obviously would not have made a difference in Cincinnati, where Rawls ran for more yards than Lynch has ever tallied for the Seahawks and Seattle still managed to blow a 17-point lead.

As Lynch returns, he should get the lion’s share of the carries again, but, as Carroll said, “Thomas will be there for him when Marshawn needs a break. We’ll jump in and be excited to see what Thomas will do too. He’s really made a big statement about how he fits in with our style of play and we’re thrilled about that, so we won’t hesitate.

“There’s always been a rotation there to some extent. We want to keep Marshawn as fresh as we can and keep him at a really high tempo, so we’ll do that like we’ve done in the past, but Thomas will be the No. 2.”

Going forward, the question is: Who will be No. 1 next year?

Lynch is 29, and it won’t be a surprise if this is his last year in Seattle — or in the NFL. He reportedly considered retirement after last season anyway — but was lured back by a three-year contract extension.

If he continues to be hobbled by injuries, though, he might decide to retire or the Seahawks might choose to move on next offseason.

For now, Lynch is back. But does anyone care?

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