Running back Christine Michael oozed talent and potential, but he was never consistent enough for the Seahawks to trust him.
There was so much hope, so much optimism, so much talk of growth the second time around. Christine Michael returned to the Seahawks last year not just a reclamation project but a different player: more mature, more disciplined, a better pro.
It was supposed to be the final ingredient Michael needed to capitalize on his immense potential. Instead, he never shook off the problems that led to his release the first time. On Tuesday, the Seahawks released Michael again, clearing the way for Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise and ending one of the stranger Seahawks’ careers in recent memory.
Michael was too inconsistent for the Seahawks. He struggled to hit the right hole or trust the design of the play. Those are vital elements of any run game but particularly for the Seahawks. The running back is the conductor of the offensive line. His patience, the number of steps he takes, all those details help a run succeed or fail.
Just the other week offensive line coach Tom Cable pointed out that Michael had struggled to read plays the way they were intended. Slice through all the optimism about Michael’s return, and the issue came back to trust: The Seahawks couldn’t rely on Michael to do what they wanted.
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With Rawls close to returning and with Prosise having a break out game against the Patriots, Michael became a luxury.
He did look better at first. In a playoff win in Minnesota last year, in the freezing cold, he grinded out tough yards and took care of the ball. “This is what he’s become, and I’m so proud of him,” receiver Doug Baldwin said in the locker room that afternoon.
Michael, a second-round pick in 2013, had won back the respect of his teammates for his rededication. He was more focused, more humble. Getting cut had changed him as a player.
This season was supposed to be a continuation. The Seahawks re-signed him to a one-year contract, and then he became the starter while Rawls dealt with injuries. Former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson watched Michael run in the preseason and said he had developed his “pro eyes” — Michael trusted “the integrity of the play.”
But that didn’t carry over to the regular season, at least not with any consistency. Michael still too often leaned on his natural ability. He tried to bounce runs outside, looking for the home run, when the Seahawks would have gladly taken the hard-earned three or four yards inside.
He wasn’t as physical as the Seahawks wanted, stepping out on a few runs along the sideline or slipping in the middle of the field. It was telling this week that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll highlighted Prosise’s decision to stay in bounds along the sideline and lower his shoulder.
Michael averaged 4.0 yards per carry this season and scored six touchdowns. Those are solid numbers on the surface. But the details frustrated the Seahawks, and ultimately the details led to Michael’s release for a second time.