With Thomas Rawls expected back and the Seahawks having drafted three rookie running backs, Christine Michael --- now the most-veteran member of the team's backfield --- knows nothing is guaranteed.
One of the star attractions of the Seahawks’ OTAs and mini-camps the last few years, running back Christine Michael seemed like almost an afterthought this spring.
With Thomas Rawls ruled as “absolutely’’ expected to be ready by the start of the regular season by coach Pete Carroll, and the team having drafted three running backs who so far have made a positive impression, will there really be any room left for Michael when the team cuts its roster to 53 for the start of the regular season?
Michael himself sounds like he’s not entirely sure.
“It’s going to be a task,’’ Michael said of the competition for a roster spot in the first Marshawn Lynch-less Seahawks backfield since 2010. “It’s going to be hard work.’’
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But the man once seemingly inked in as Lynch’s successor is said by coaches and teammates to have so far this off-season done what he needed to do to stay in the conversation.
“Christine has really answered the challenge,’’ said coach Pete Carroll. “He’s been extremely consistent. He’s just been on it every day with his work ethic and attitude.’’
As has become a well-chronicled chapter in Michael’s story, that wasn’t always regarded as being the case. A surprise pick out of Texas A&M as Seattle’s first selection in the 2013 draft in the second round at No. 62 overall, Michael failed to carve out a role for himself his first two seasons, due in part to what he later admitted was his own lack of seriousness and dedication.
With Rawls having emerged in the 2015 season, the Seahawks were set to release Michael at the end of training camp before working out a trade with Dallas for a seventh-round pick. Michael had a short stay with the Cowboys, though, released in November, and was hanging on to Washington’s practice squad before Lynch and then Rawls were sidelined with injuries, compelling Seattle to bring him back.
With just a few weeks left in the season, the potential value of Michael’s knowledge of the playbook and quick re-assimilation into the offense overrode concerns about his work ethic. But possibly to Seattle’s surprise, the Seahawks discovered a different Michael, one who seemed more appreciative of his NFL opportunity after staring face-to-face with the reality of life after football.
In three regular season games and two starts, Michael gained 192 yards on 39 carries (a 4.9 yards per carry average) appearing to finally live up to the potential the team always thought he had. He then provided all the running game the team had in a 10-9 wild card playoff win at Minnesota, with 70 yards on 21 carries in sub-zero temperatures.
With Lynch retired and Rawls recovering, some figured the Seahawks might be in the market for a free agent running back. But the only free agent the team signed was Michael (albeit to a pretty risk-free contract as Michael has a salary of just $725,000 with just $25,000 guaranteed after Seattle declined to tender him as a restricted free agent, which could have paid him $1.67 million) before then adding three rookies via the draft.
And with Rawls out and the rookies (third-rounder C.J. Prosise, fifth-rounder Alex Collins and seventh-rounder Zac Brooks) still learning, Michael worked as the number one tailback throughout OTAs and mini-camp.
“He is really putting his head down and going to work, and that is a great thing for us,’’ said quarterback Russell Wilson. “He has got tons of talent.’’
Wilson volunteered that Michael has come out early to take extra work during receiving drills to try to improve an area of his game that appears to be a strength of all of Seattle’s rookies and may be a necessity for Michael to make the roster (Michael has caught just four passes in his NFL career).
“He is catching the ball really well,’’ Wilson said. “He has really worked on that. He is coming out there early every day. Mid-practice, too, he catches with me.’’
Carroll also noted Michael’s improved receiving saying “he’s caught the ball really well.’’
Carroll additionally praised the condition of Michael, who said he lost about eight pounds and is now at 217, adding “I definitely feel quicker getting in and out of my cuts.’’
Carroll said he also sees continued evidence of what he called earlier this year a “more humble’’ Michael in another way — the manner in which he has dealt with the rookies while understanding their presence could knock him out of a job. Now 25, Michael is the oldest player in the team’s running back room.
“He sees the young guys,’’ Carroll said. “He’s been a good leader for those guys, too. It’s been a really good situation—been a different situation entirely for him this spring and he’s taken to it really well.’’
Michael said of the addition of three draft picks that “it’s all about competing. That’s what this game is about.’’
Rawls’ health and how other positions shake out will factor into how many tailbacks the team keeps. But after last season, the player who once seemed to take it all for granted knows nothing is guaranteed.
“Just get into training camp,’’ he said “and see where it goes.’’