Michael appears to have developed into a dependable ball-carrier who can consistently produce at an NFL level, but let’s not pretend we haven’t seen this before. Summertime in Seattle generally is when Michael mutates into Emmitt Smith.
RENTON — You’ll find him dancing on the sideline between snaps. You’ll catch him celebrating breakaways in team drills. You’ll see a smile stapled to his face as though life is on his payroll.
Seahawks running back Christine Michael is as sprightly as can be these days, and there are two potential reasons: 1) He has developed into a dependable ball-carrier who can consistently produce at an NFL level; and 2) It’s August.
Let’s not pretend we haven’t seen this before. Summertime in Seattle generally is when Michael mutates into Emmitt Smith.
In 2013 he blitzed through the preseason, racking up 201 yards on 40 carries. In June 2014, he prompted offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to declare that the Seahawks’ offense will be “running back by committee,” even though Marshawn Lynch had spearheaded a Super Bowl win a few months earlier. And on Saturday, Michael’s 44 yards on seven carries in a preseason win at Kansas City got Pete Carroll to say that Michael and Thomas Rawls would be the “1-2 punch” in Seattle’s backfield this year. Surprising words considering the Hawks drafted three running backs in April.
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The optimist might be compelled to believe this finally will be the year Michael, 25, tracks down his potential and becomes a mainstay in an NFL offense. The realist, on the other hand, would be compelled to ask: How is this any different?
Michael suited up only four times his rookie year and had just 34 regular-season carries in 2014. The consensus was that he felt entitled and was overconfident, which led to Seattle trading him, Dallas releasing him, and Washington relegating him to the practice squad last season.
But regardless of whether anyone in the front office expected Michael to make the regular-season roster three weeks ago, he is closing in on becoming a lock for the final 53. So what has changed?
“Physically, I think he’s showed greater consistency hitting things the way we expect him to hit them. He was kind of a loose cannon (before),” Carroll said Monday. “Mentally, certainly he’s different. He’s grown up.”
Rawls will go ahead and second that notion. He said that he and Michael have grown close the past few weeks and that Christine motivates him. He sees a guy who, after being cut last season, is skyrocketing through the running-back hierarchy. He speaks of a teammate who is more locked in during meetings, more decisive on the field and more formidable than ever.
“I had a conversation with Christine, and I told him, ‘You inspire me,’ ” Rawls said. “Just to see the level of growth that he’s attained and how he’s taking it a little more serious. I’ve learned some things from him.”
It’s entirely possible that Michael is more skeptical of the hype than anyone. Based on past performances and endorsements, there was good reason for him to think he would have shined in previous seasons.
Perhaps that’s why he is assuming nothing at this point. Maybe that’s why “it is what it is” and “I’m taking it one day at a time” are his go-tos for questions about his future.
A man in his position can’t be entirely convinced that his offseason will produce a new result. But he is certain that he’s new man.
“I’m being an all-around professional,” said Michael, adding he has gone from playing “backyard football” to trusting his blocks and reads. “I feel like I know what I’m doing.”
It didn’t hurt that Michael outperformed Adrian Peterson in the playoff win at Minnesota last season. Rushing for 70 yards and committing no turnovers in subzero temperatures will spike confidence and ingratiate teammates.
So will this finally be Michael’s year? Tough to say.
It seems foolish to disregard the strides he has made, but then again, he has fooled fans before.