NFL head coaches are masters of producing useless sound. In an industry paranoid about the potential of revealing the slightest advantage to the opposing side, they are famously reluctant to offer up much of anything when they take the podium to fulfill their media obligations.
Oakland Raiders boss Jack Del Rio breezes through his press conferences with a constant smile, but hardly an insight to be had.
It’s against that backdrop that the recent comments of Jay Gruden stand out as conspicuous. Gruden, the head coach of the Washington Redskins — the Raiders’ Sunday night opponent — displayed unusual candor when asked to address the challenge of facing off against Marshawn Lynch.
“He’s fun to watch,” Gruden said on his midweek conference call. “I don’t like to say that about other people, but it’s actually fun and terrifying to watch him at the same time. It’s no fun to go against him.”
Fun is the perfect word to describe Lynch’s homecoming in the Black Hole one week ago when the Raiders throttled the New York Jets, 45-20.
Even as Lynch produced a workmanlike but hardly spectacular 76 yards on 18 carries, the running back was the man of the day, igniting the Coliseum and lighting up Twitter with his sideline dancing.
“That’s Marshawn being Marshawn, man,” left tackle Donald Penn told reporters after the beatdown. “That’s him.”
Penn is uniquely positioned to speak on the joy that Lynch is running — and dancing — with in the opening weeks of his Raiders tenure. Lynch grew up in Oakland and went on to star at Oakland Tech; Penn was a Raiders fan as a kid in Los Angeles.
“He’s playing in front of his hometown team,” Penn said. “If you grew up as a kid, and you grew up cheering for a team and you get to play for them, wouldn’t that be something?”
As the five-time pro bowler bounced around the home sideline, Penn was nearby — the Raider who got the closest to actually dancing alongside Lynch.
“I’m just happy for him,” Penn continued. “He’s living his childhood dream. A lot of kids don’t get to live that. And that’s just him being him, man.”
The Super Bowl XLVIII champ has been the perfect fit for a Raiders team that is looking to climb into the elite echelon of the AFC following a 12-4 2016, curtailed by a Derek Carr broken fibula.
After a year away from the NFL, the 31-year-old Lynch is running violently — most notably barging right over two-time pro bowler defensive end Jurrell Casey in the club’s season-opening 26-16 win over the Tennessee Titans.
Watching from the booth, Raiders radio voice Greg Papa has noticed the jolt that Lynch provides as he bowls over linemen and dances at the Coliseum.
“Marshawn was having so much fun and it speaks to where he’s at now,” Papa said on 95.7 The Game. “And he really is, in his own way, I think the leader of the football team.”
To even consider bestowing that title on Lynch is an eyebrow-raising claim, considering that Carr has entrenched himself in that role ever since snatching the starting quarterback’s job during the 2014 preseason finale.
While Lynch rivals Carr for influence in the locker room, Papa drew a parallel from the ex-Cal star to another East Bay sports giants — Stephen Curry.
“It reminded me so much of Steph Curry,” Papa said, recalling the scene as Lynch exhorted the Coliseum with a swagger that few — outside the two-time MVP — can match.
“Steph would turn and shoot the ball,” Papa said. “And before the ball went in the basket he knew it went in, [so] he turned to go back on defense and started to celebrate.
“I’m starting to sense that vibe [with Lynch].”
It’s a vibe that Lynch has flashed in spurts throughout his 10 seasons in the NFL.
It’s a vibe that teammates like Penn have been privy to, often behind closed doors.
“Marshawn’s a good, fun guy,” Penn said. “Man, you guys don’t really see that side of him. He’s a good, fun guy, man. In the locker room he does the same thing, so we’re used to it. I’m happy fans were able to see that though.”