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Grow a Cosmic Pair of Ankles for Marshawn!

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Should the Bills lighten Lynch's load? (BuffaloBills.com)

Note: The title of this post was inspired by an e-mail I received this morning entitled "Grow a Cosmic Body Part for Myra". Needless to say, I have an affinity for humorous spam e-mail - and, as it stands right now, Marshawn needs those cosmic ankles.

Name the toughest, most physical runners in the league. Go. Wait, let me predict some of the names you'll come up with: Jamal Lewis. Rudi Johnson. Marion Barber. Larry Johnson. Ronnie Brown. Deuce McAllister. Adrian Peterson. There are others, to be sure - including our very own Marshawn Lynch. What's the commonality? Most of these guys are, have been, or are going to get hurt. That's just what tends to happen when running backs turn on "beast mode".

There's the catch with Lynch, however - his aggressive rushing style has been a blessing for Buffalo's anemic offense this season, but his workload has been a bit disconcerting as well. Take into account the fact that Lynch was never a workhorse in college, and we're left to ponder some questions: are the Bills running Lynch ragged? Would Marshawn be more valuable to Buffalo in a two-back system?

How Lynch Was Used at Cal
While in college, Marshawn Lynch was easily one of college football's most explosive offensive threats. He was not, however, a "workhorse" running back, where the team fought to get him 20-25 carries week in and week out. Here's Lynch by the numbers:

2004 (Freshman)


- Never carried the ball more than 9 times in a single game
- Recorded at least one reception in all 12 games (maximum of 3 catches in a game)
- Split time with current Arizona RB J.J. Arrington (289 rushes)

2005 (Sophomore)

196 att, 1246 yds, 10 TD; 15 rec, 125 yds
- Carried 20+ times in just 2 of 10 games (25 in both cases)
- Recorded at least one reception in 9 of 10 games (max of 3 catches in a game)
- Split time with current Cal senior Justin Forsett (132 rushes)

2006 (Junior)

223 att, 1356 yds, 11 TD; 34 rec, 328 yds, 4 TD
- Carried 20+ times in just 6 of 13 games (max of 27)
- Recorded at least one reception in 12 of 13 games (max of 5 catches, twice)
- Split time with current Cal senior Justin Forsett (119 rushes)

Cal runs a two-back system. After a phenomenal freshman year, Lynch became Cal's feature back - and even with that title, he was used largely in conjunction with Forsett, a talented back who should be drafted this coming April. We know Lynch is talented, and we know he was dominant in college. Is it possible that if he were used similarly in Buffalo, he would be similarly dominant?

Professional Comparison
Obviously, Lynch is being used in a far different fashion in Buffalo than he was in college. Here's the comparison, taking into account his first 9 professional games:

2007 (NFL Rookie)

196 att, 751 yds, 6 TD; 15 rec, 120 yds
- Carried 20+ times in 6 of 9 games (29 max)
- Recorded at least one reception in 8 of 9 games (3 max)
- Has nearly 8x the amount of carries as second-leading RB Dwayne Wright (25 att)

Lynch has quickly become the proverbial workhorse. This is in direct contradiction to how Lynch was utilized in college - he's getting more work, and it's all on the ground. I've said it recently: Lynch needs to be used in a more versatile fashion.

The Two-Back System
When the Bills drafted Dwayne Wright, many fans (including yours truly) got excited at the thought of a future one-two punch of Lynch and Wright. Thunder and lightning. That, of course, wouldn't happen until after the one-two punch of Lynch and Anthony Thomas ran its course (a.k.a. the A-Train rolled out of town). Then Fred Jackson had a terrific pre-season, and suddenly the Bills' roster was chock-full of quality runners. Where, then, has the multi-back system been?

Maybe Marshawn isn't cut out to be a feature back. Oh, that's not to say he shouldn't be the main back in Buffalo - I think his early success puts that doubt to rest rather easily. It's just that running backs take the biggest pounding of any player at this level; how long can we expect Marshawn to be effective if he's kept at his current workload? What's the harm in getting him the ball in different ways and mixing in a Wright, Thomas or Jackson? Is the Bills' coaching staff to blame for Lynch's injury? If this trend continues, how soon can we expect Lynch to sustain another injury similar to his ankle problem now?

My final thought on this matter: Marshawn doesn't need cosmic ankles. He just needs a running mate to keep him fresh.