Just how hungry is running back Marshawn Lynch to get back to playing football?
"Well, I'm always hungry and it's time to eat," Lynch said.
Lynch's three-game suspension for violating the NFL's conduct code has expired and the third-year running back will return to action on Sunday in Miami. With Bills quarterback Trent Edwards struggling and Miami backup Chad Henne starting in place of an injured Chad Pennington, the game's spotlight will be on four sterling running backs: Buffalo's Lynch and Fred Jackson and Miami's Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
The Bills' reunited running back duo is eager for the challenge.
"You know what you're going to get from me and you've kind of seen what you're going to get from Fred, so you kind of combine those two things and basically you're going to be a 200 from both of us. And when I say 200, I mean 200 percent," Lynch said. "That's what you can expect from our backfield every game."
Buffalo's sputtering offense, which punted nine times and turned the ball over twice in 12 possessions last week against New Orleans in 27-7 loss, certainly could use a jolt of something.
Not that Jackson is to blame. The former Division III and indoor football league star, who joined the Bills in 2007 as a free agent the year Lynch was Buffalo's first-round pick, proved his worth as a starting running back in Lynch's absence, gaining 425 yards from scrimmage.
That three-game total is the fourth most by a Bill, just behind Thurman Thomas' 584 yards in 1991 and two totals by O.J. Simpson (543 in 1975 and 491 in 1973).
That's pretty good company to keep.It also presents the coaching staff with a dilemma: trying to work Lynch back into the game plan while still maintaining Jackson's effectiveness. Last year, Lynch averaged 20 touches per game and Jackson 10.5. Given Jackson's play this season, it's probably safe to assume a more 50-50 split. He has averaged 25.8 touches through three games."
Going into the season, even in the offseason, when we knew about Marshawn's suspension I said, 'We've got to be careful with Fred because he's a really good player and we don't want to overload him,'" coach Dick Jauron said. "He had a lot of touches and did a great job. Now Marshawn's back and we'll take some of that load off him and evenly distribute it because both those guys are good. It'll make us a better team."
Lynch and Jackson insisted they don't care who is designated the starter; they just want to help the team win with the touches they are given.
"I'm probably more excited than anybody to have him back," said Jackson, the epitome of a teammate, about Lynch.
"He's a playmaker on this offense and we're looking forward to him coming in and making some plays for us. He brings back a different energy and we're excited about that."
What role does Jackson envision for each of them? Both are hard runners and both can catch the ball. Jackson has the added versatility of splitting out as a wide receiver.
"I don't know exactly how it's going to go but I know we'll both get our touches so we'll see what they want to do with us," Jackson said. "And I know we'll just feed off of each other. He'll try to make plays, I'll try to make plays, and we'll do whatever we can to complement each other."
The key to coordinator Alex Van Pelt giving enough touches to his running backs and under-used wide receivers Lee Evans and Terrell Owens is having enough plays to work with. Buffalo's third-down conversion rate is an abysmal 27.8 percent (10 of 36). The Bills have run 177 plays to their opponents' 217.
"We have to stay on the field," Jackson said. "If we're converting third downs and staying on the field, there'll be enough carries for both of us."
Lynch sounded like a man who had learned a good lesson the hard way. After dodging a suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in 2008 for a hit-and-run incident, he wasn't so lucky after an arrest on weapons charges in California.
"It was hard but that was part of the deal, and I had to sit out so I'm just glad to be back," said Lynch, who has rushed for totals of 1,115 and 1,036 yards his first two seasons.
Lynch was barred from working out at team facilities during his three-game suspension but stayed in touch with his teammates via phone calls and text messages and tried to stay in the best shape he could.
He said he knows fans are excited about Jackson, and they should be, but he's eager to help Buffalo break its nine-year playoff drought, too.
"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 said.
"Some are telling me they can't wait until I come back. You hear mixed emotional things from fans. I'm just glad I've got these dudes (teammates) on my side to let me know that I was missed."
"We're very excited to have Marshawn back in the locker room here and back on field on Sunday," Edwards said. "Like I said all along, he's a big part of our offense. I thought Fred's done a great job filling in for him, but now that he's back we've got kind of a one-two punch there that I think we're going to be looking forward to."