NEWARK, N.J. --** Knowshon Moreno regards running backs coach Eric Studesville as "like a father figure."
That's apt, because it would be impossible for any father to be prouder than Studesville of what he will witness Sunday night: two teams with prolific running backs that he helped develop.
Before Studesville joined the Broncos and inherited a running back corps that included a then-22-year-old Moreno, he coached the Buffalo Bills' running backs for six seasons. For the last three of them, his prize pupil was Marshawn Lynch, the Bills' 2007 first-round draft pick.
Lynch had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons playing under Studesville, but that's not what stands out to the veteran coach. Instead, it's the bond of friendship that they had -- and still possess.
"When I had him every day, you loved being around him every day," Studesville said. "He's got a great personality, he's got a huge heart."
That's not something that many people outside the locker room have seen, given Lynch's reluctance to speak with media. He spoke at the Seahawks' media day session for just six minutes and 20 seconds before leaving, which could subject him to a second fine this month for not being available for interviews.
Having worked with Lynch on a daily basis for nearly three years, Studesville sees beneath the on-the-record silence.
"I can just tell you what he is around me," Studesville said. "He's a big kid and when we lived in Buffalo, he was at my house, because he lived two doors up, so he was welcome there any time, and we loved having him, and he's fun to be around, and just a good person."
Bringing out the best in a running back is Studesville's specialty. The results have never been more obvious than this year: Only three running backs and four players had more yardage from scrimmage in the 2013 season than his current and former pupils, Moreno (1,591) and Lynch (1,573).
These successes make them the latest in a line of prolific running backs who can trace part of their development and stellar performance to Studesville, who broke into the NFL via the minority coaching internship with the Chicago Bears in 1996.
But Studesville takes just as much pride in his players' development as individuals. And perhaps none of his runners has ever traveled farther than Moreno, who came under Studesville's watch in 2010.
"The distance he has covered has been amazing. Amazing," said Studesville. "And I'm very proud of him and the adjustments that he's made, that he's learned from things that have happened.
"To see where he is standing today, and reaping the rewards of that hard work to do those things, it's awesome. It makes you very proud to see somebody who really looked at things and said, 'You know what? I'm going to do things differently,' and has done them differently."
Even a torn anterior cruciate ligament did not derail Moreno. When he suffered the injury at Kansas City on Nov. 13, 2011, the timing seemed cruel. He had just taken over for a hurting Willis McGahee, and ran with decisiveness and authority that he had never before shown in the NFL, slicing through -- and in one case over -- a flailing defense.
Then Moreno was injured, and didn't play again until the following year. But by this point, he had already begun to transform and mature under Studesville's guidance. That served him well in the rehabilitation.
"You're sick for him, because you know how hard he's working to try to do this, but maybe the greater testimony is what he did after that, how he worked through all that and came back from it," Studesville said. "(Moreno) was never negative, never down on himself, and was great to be around as a teammate, and did everything the right way."
And when a reporter mentions to Studesville that Moreno calls him a "father figure," the coach is clearly moved.
"That's a tremendous compliment, because I'm very proud of where he is and how far he has come in his journey," he said. "It's great to sit and look at him and watch that development -- as you would any player, whether it's their skills or their personal life or things like that, you're proud when you know that they're better today than when you first met him."
That's why Moreno and Lynch have risen to the pinnacle of their profession. Studesville brought out their best, and the conference champions have reaped the rewards.