The likelihood that Marshawn Lynch will return to the Seahawks for the start of the playoffs has increased.
The Seahawks aren’t saying that. The star running back’s trainers in San Francisco, the ones determining whether or not Lynch returns, are telling the Seahawks that.
Asked on Wednesday if he expects Lynch to play in Seattle’s playoff opener — on Jan. 9 or Jan. 10 — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll referred to Tareq Azim, Lynch’s trainer across San Francisco Bay from Lynch’s hometown of Oakland, California.
“I would think he can make it back. That’s what we hear,” Carroll said. “It’s really up to that day-to-day kind of progression that he’s making. There’s a lot of days between next week starting up.
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“We’ll see what happens.”
The NFL’s leading rusher and touchdown maker from 2011 until this injury-filled season will miss his seventh consecutive game Sunday at Arizona because of an abdominal injury. He had surgery in Philadelphia on Nov. 25.
Lynch is rehabbing in his native Bay Area, working out at the Empower Gym and whole-person development center run by the mixed martial arts-champion trainer. Seahawks line coach Tom Cable introduced Lynch to Azim and his operation years ago.
That’s why the Seahawks are entrusting Lynch to the trainer in San Francisco.
“There’s a long relationship there, yeah,” said Cable, who’s known Azim since Cable was offensive-line coach and then head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2007-10. “This has really been where he’s trained (for each season), so it’s not new to us. It’s new to folks on the outside. They’ve been working in concert with our trainers, and I think everyone is on top of it.”
Carroll reiterated what he said Monday. The Seahawks feel that “this is the right thing” for Lynch — to train and rehabilitate outside the team. The head coach said the team has a long-standing relationship with Azim and his staff and knows that those guys have a proven record of getting Lynch ready to play.
Will it be in time for Seattle’s playoffs?
Lynch’s teammate and best friend has talked to Lynch throughout his recovery from his surgery five weeks ago.
“Talked to him yesterday,” Fred Jackson said Wednesday.
So any inkling when Lynch may play again?
“No. And I don’t care. I just asked him how he’s feeling,” said Jackson, 34, who has said he considers Lynch one of his kids. “That’s the No. 1 thing when I talk to him, what he’s feeling like as opposed to when he’s going to be back here.
“He told me he’s feeling good. He’s feeling better. So we’ll see what happens.”
Lynch has played in just seven games this season; he missed only one in his first five years with Seattle. Yet the Seahawks’ chances to win three postseason games on the road to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl would improve exponentially with him back as the foundation for the offense.
Lynch has scored eight touchdowns and has six 100-yard rushing days in his 10 career postseason games.
Put it this way: The Seahawks would be much better off with Lynch playing his first game in nearly two months in their playoff opener than they would be in having Christine Michael and Bryce Brown share the rushing load beyond Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Cardinals.
Jackson was Lynch’s co-lead runner in Buffalo in 2009, the year before the Bills traded Lynch to Seattle. Jackson did not say that he was confident Lynch would return for the playoffs.
“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “If he comes back, he’ll be welcomed. But we’ll let him do what he needs to do to get himself ready. And we’ll take care of our business outside of that.”
Jackson said the first surgery of the 29-year-old Lynch’s career has been particularly challenging for the four-time Pro Bowl runner.
“With the right people in your corner and the right people helping you get through it, it’s one of those things that he’ll rely on those people and come back and be ready to go,” Jackson said.
Yes, to the Seahawks, it’s conceivable that Lynch would not show up to team headquarters until the middle or end of next week, or not even practice, yet still be ready for the playoff opener.
“We have to see what he looks like when he gets here,” Carroll said. “(But) if anyone could do it, he could.”
No doubt, the Seahawks are giving Lynch exceptional treatment. How many teams paying a franchise cornerstone a guaranteed $4.5 million allow him to go off on his own to rehabilitate near his out-of-state home during the most important weeks of the season?
The answer is the same as the number of locker-room interviews Lynch will give explaining the recovery from his first surgery, if and when he comes back.
Yet this is the way the Seahawks have employed Lynch. And it’s worked. That time has coincided with the best six, sustained years in team history, though two consecutive NFC titles and the franchise’s only Super Bowl championship.
That’s why the universal view of players inside the locker room is that they respect and love Lynch — no matter that he marches to a beat unlike any other team member.
“Whatever works. Different strokes for different folks,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We know when that guy comes in the building and he gets on the field, there’s nobody like him. There’s nobody who’s giving more effort, who’s going to sacrifice more for their team. There’s no question about his loyalty to the team or his work ethic or anything like that. That guy is exactly who we think he is.
“If he needs to rehab at home, we’re all for it. We know he keeps the team first in his heart, so we have no questions about his intentions. Or anything.”
Jackson said: “He’s a guy that wants the best for you in whatever fashion he can help you. If you need him to come help you change a tire, he’s a guy you can count on to do that.
“There’s real respect in this locker room for what he does on the field as well as off the field.”
It’s on the field where the Seahawks need Lynch most for the playoffs.
“You turn a Seattle Seahawks game on and see how hard that man runs and how no one can stop him, can’t do nothing but respect that,” All-Pro middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“Everybody in this room has a lot of respect for him. And that ain’t ever gonna change.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle