Lynch returns from suspension
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Marshawn Lynch stood at his locker speaking mostly in a monotone voice, when the Buffalo Bills running back was finally asked what happened to his confidence-oozing "Beast Mode" -- as he likes to call it -- personality.
"Still the same old me," Lynch said. "Ain't going to change."
The circumstances, however, may have changed now that Lynch has returned from serving an NFL-imposed three-game suspension as the Bills (1-2) prepare to play at Miami (0-3) this weekend.
In Lynch's absence, the Bills running attack didn't lose a step behind Fred Jackson, who was the offense's most valuable player through September. Jackson has been the workhorse and leads the team with 291 yards rushing and 134 yards receiving to rank second in the NFL with 425 yards from scrimmage.
Lynch, who is close friends with Jackson, is the first to stress that he's impressed and pleased with how Jackson performed. Lynch also said he doesn't care whether he's considered the team's No. 1 running back.
And yet, the suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge in March provided the 2007 first-round draft pick a healthy reminder of how quickly he can be forgotten.
"It's weird," Lynch said, referring to the reaction he received from fans while he was working out in Buffalo while suspended. "I've been hearing a lot of different mixed things like some saying, 'I can stay where I'm at, Fred's doing a wonderful job,' which I don't mind."
Lynch added there were other fans that couldn't wait until he got back. But it wasn't until he returned to the Bills facility -- the one he had been barred from visiting during his suspension -- to rejoin his teammates when he finally felt at home.
"I'm just glad I've got these dudes on my side to let me know that I was missed," he said.
There's no question among the Bills -- particularly Jackson -- that they're ready to welcome him back, because Lynch has the potential to provide an inconsistent offense a necessary boost.
"Without a doubt," Jackson said. "I'm probably more excited than anybody. He's a playmaker on offense. We're looking forward to him coming in and making some plays for us."
Lynch and Jackson began providing the Bills a one-two run punch last year, when Jackson emerged as a dependable backup in his second season with the team. Led by Lynch's 1,036 yards rushing, the pair combined for 1,607 yards rushing plus 807 yards receiving. Their combined 2,414 yards from scrimmage accounted for just under half of the offense's total production.
The only issue is determining how the two will share the duties.
Lynch returned in good shape, but there are questions as to how game-ready he is after spending the past three weeks working on his own.
Coach Dick Jauron said the plan is to ease Lynch back in, though he didn't rule out splitting the playing time evenly between the two running backs.
Jackson is fine with that. And he noted the way each will get more chances is by helping the offense stay on the field longer, something that's not happened for a unit that's converted less then 28 percent of its third-down chances to rank 27th in the NFL. Time of possession also has been a problem. The Bills are averaging 26:17 per game, which ranks 31st.
"I'm excited," Jackson said. "I don't think we have selfish guys on this team. I think we have a common goal, and that's winning."
Lynch is ready.
"I'm a ballplayer and it's time for me to go to work," Lynch said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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