RENTON Nine months ago, Jimmy Graham was recovering from tricky knee surgery, unsure of how he’d come back from his first major injury.
Sunday, Graham apparently will be back. On time for the start of the regular season.
Coach Pete Carroll said Friday he expects the star tight end to play Sunday in the opener against Miami at CenturyLink Field. It would be Graham’s first game of any kind since he ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee on Nov. 29.
"He had a great last few weeks. He’s done everything we’ve asked from him and he couldn’t be more excited to play,” Carroll said.
When asked if he expects Graham to indeed play against the Dolphins after he missed all four preseason games -- and earlier than many thought he would --Carroll said: "I do. I do expect him to play."
Graham politely declined to comment when I approached him at his locker following Friday’s practice, in which he again fully participated with the starting offense.
Across the locker room, Christine Michael was smiling.
One year ago this past Tuesday, Michael drove away from Seahawks headquarters discarded by the team that had drafted him, tried him, pleaded with him -- and finally gave up on him.
Seattle had just traded the former second-round pick to Dallas for the NFL draft-choice equivalent of a bag of kicking tees. The Cowboys soon released him, too. So did Washington -- off its practice squad.
Sunday, Michael will be the Seahawks’ starting tailback when they open the 2016 season against Miami at CenturyLink Field.
“He’s had,” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and wide receiver Doug Baldwin both said, “a reawakening.”
Carroll confirmed Michael will start after a sterling preseason in which he regained the team’s trust. It’s a reward for his re-dedication -- and an acknowlegement lead back Thomas Rawls will be playing in what is essentially his second “preseason” game Sunday in his long way back from a broken ankle and torn ligaments in December.
Rawls will play, but off the bench, with a metal plate and screws still in his leg.
“I’m fired up and ready to go. I’ve worked so hard and the opener is here. I’m excited,” Rawls said. (It’s) a huge accomplishment. I’ve worked so hard at it. I’ve had some ups and downs with it. I’m very grateful for the opportunity just to get back out there and play with my teammates again.”
Michael’s accomplishment: going from sent away by Seattle a year ago and unemployed last November to an opening-day starter.
“People think I’m crazy when I say this ... but I felt like in all my heart, as crazy as it sounds, I always said it -- don’t know if I wrapped my head around it but I mentioned it to myself, man -- ‘For some reason I feel like I’ll end up back there,’” Michael said of the Seahawks’ locker room in which he was sitting Friday.
“I just feel like the people here really cared about me when I was here the first time, man. They wanted me to get it so well. They believed in the talent; if not, they wouldn’t have drafted me. They loved me as a person.
“It was me. I wasn’t doing my job. I wasn’t as consistent every day as I am now. I was just being a little knucklehead, you know?
“But I did tell myself, ‘Damn, I think I’m going to be back there at some point in my career.’ And it happened sooner than I expected.”
Part of this, he admits, is he’s 25 years old now instead of 21 straight out of Texas A&M.
That, plus little Mia (3) and Christine Jr. (five months) living back in Dallas with his mother, who got a job there when Michael was playing for the Cowboys early last season, are why Michael has his renewed dedication in his second Seahawks go-round.
“That is the bulk of it,” he said. “I have two babies. That’s my life, there. That’s what I come to work for. That’s what I think about when I’m on the field, getting up from plays -- ‘My children. Children, children, children.’ I have special kids. They are so smart. I love them to death, man. I can’t help but do well for them, you know what I mean? I don’t want them to grow up how I did.”
That is, suspended from school, not willing to listen to authority, thinking he knew best. As Michael called his younger self, a “knucklehead.”
Though his starting status is temporary -- when Rawls is ready for his 20-plus-carries workload, he’ll be starting -- Michael has a prime opportunity Sunday to begin cementing more of a 1A status in Seattle’s backfield.
Far more than the Z -- as in, zero -- status he had exactly one year ago with Seattle.
“I’m in a great position to do great things for myself,” he said. “Hopefully, I keep going.”