One of the first things you notice about Christine Michael: His handshake.
It’s a stop-you-midsentence-to-see-if-your-hand-is-still-there handshake, and it leaves you wondering: Is he shaking your hand or trying to vaporize it? It’s a fitting introduction for a player whose running style draws similar reactions.
“He’s 100 percent a man,” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said. “That’s a full-grown man right there.”
Michael’s been the talk of the exhibition season, both locally and nationally, because when he’s played, he’s showed the potential to be a featured back. But there’s more to the position than raw ability, and it’s on those grounds that coach Pete Carroll throws up caution signs.
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“He has made a really flashy first impression, and we are really excited about it,” Carroll said. “But he doesn’t have the whole thing yet. He’s got a lot of work to do, and he’s not always reading things properly. But he surely shows us the suddenness that makes you feel like he’s going to bust something.”
Take Thursday’s exhibition finale against Oakland. The Raiders corralled Michael for just 15 yards on 13 carries. It wasn’t his fault alone — the backup offensive line struggled most of the night — but Michael didn’t help his cause.
“It didn’t feel like he was roaring up in there,” Carroll said. “It felt like he was looking and trying to get some cutbacks and was kind of impatient with his reads.”
He also did this: He rumbled for 21 yards after catching a screen pass, but the highlight came at the end of the run. He zeroed in on Oakland safety Shelton Johnson in the open field, lowered his shoulder and sent Johnson’s helmet flying on impact.
It’s that cutthroat combination of speed and power that leaves people gushing, but those traits come with an asterisk.
He’s behind as a pass blocker and pass catcher, something Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin do better. He also needs to read what’s happening at the line of scrimmage better when he carries the ball.
The flash is there, but if he doesn’t become more reliable, his playing time this year could be limited.
“It’s that delicate balance between his functional football playing ability and his makeup,” said Louis Riddick, a longtime scout now working for ESPN. “You have to tie the two together so you have someone who isn’t just going to tease you with potential and not turn that into sustainable talent. And that’s what people were scared of with Christine.”
Riddick traveled to Texas A&M last season to watch tape of Michael and offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. What he saw, right away, was the speed, the power, the ability to spin away from a defender one second and break an arm tackle the next. He saw a starter given the right situation.
“I thought he was the best running back in the draft at that time,” Riddick said.
While in Aggies land, Riddick talked with Larry Jackson, Texas A&M’s strength and conditioning coach who also worked at Oklahoma when Adrian Peterson terrorized defenses. And what Jackson told Riddick stunned him.
“He told me that from a functional explosiveness perspective that Christine was on the same level as Adrian,” Riddick said. “When you’re talking about functional explosiveness — acceleration, change of direction, force and impact on contact, breaking tackles — he said he’s the same as Adrian. The only difference … is that Adrian believed that he was unstoppable. He didn’t know if Christine believed it yet.”
(When asked to verify his comments, Jackson said that’s exactly what he said.)
Yet there’s a reason Michael fell to the second round this year. For all his talent, he had off-the-field questions hound him at A&M.
Would he be coachable? Would he be dependable and reliable, both on the field and off? Would his injury history be a problem?
Michael broke his leg and tore his ACL in college. He was suspended for a game for violating team rules his final year, then tweeted during the game, “Man rush the ball.” He fell to third on the depth chart under new coach Kevin Sumlin and didn’t play in the Cotton Bowl.
Matthew Berry, the Seahawks scout who evaluated Michael, said those weren’t concerns.
“He’s just an explosive NFL back,” Berry said in April. “I mean, it jumps off the tape.”
The talent is there to be a featured back. But in order to tap into it, he must harness the nuances of the position.
“We’d love to play him,” Carroll said, “but he’s got a lot to learn still.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org