RENTON Few players that will start an NFL game Sunday have come as far in so short a time than Christine Michael.
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.
“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.”
This time, he is in his playbook like a 10-year veteran. He is making sharp, decisive cuts that optimize the Seahawks’ zone blocking, the way -- gulp -- Marshawn Lynch used to do. He is studying defenses and knowing what to expect before it happens.
He is now a professional.
“C-Mike, he’s just grown so much, and he’s really shown himself really well in these four preseason games,” said Bevell, the coach who a year ago said he needed to be able to trust him more. “He’s done everything that we’ve asked of him, so I like that.
“I really liked how he was getting to the spot, putting his foot in the ground and making one cut then he was going. He looked very decisive. He’s very quick and he’s got really good speed, as well.”
He looks like why the Seahawks drafted him in the second round in 2013.
“He’s worked really hard. He’s spent a lot of times over there, which he hasn’t done in the past,” Bevell said, pointing off the side of the practice field. “He spent a lot of time over there with the quarterbacks, like during special teams he’s over there catching balls. He’s spent a lot of time with it so I think he’s really enabled himself to be better at that and to be more comfortable catching the ball. A feature back sometimes is not used to the ball being thrown to him all the time. He’s really worked hard at it and I like the progress that he’s made.”
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.”
To remind him of his responsibility to his children, especially his newborn son with his name, the Seahawks has on the back of his jersey above No. 32, “Michael Sr.”
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.”