Christine Michael said late Thursday what the Seahawks’ first two exhibition games have shown.
"I’m a different player," Michael said late Thursday night in the locker room at CenturyLink Field, after he rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries in the first half of the Seahawks’ 18-11 preseason loss to Minnesota.
He’s different, in more ways than one.
"He is maturing," coach Pete Carroll said of his 25-year-old running back.
Michael been making sharper cuts as Seattle’s No. 1 running back while starter Thomas Rawls recovers from a broken ankle. Not only that, Michael’s awareness of when to make those cutbacks on runs is better than it was last season, when he returned to Seattle out of injury necessity late in the year.
It’s far, far better than it was in his first time with the Seahawks, in the 2013 and ’14 seasons.
Those cut backs are how Michael has 99 yards on 17 carries through two preseason games. That’s 5.8 yards per rush, better than Rawls’ 5.6 yards per carry that led the NFL last season.
On Thursday’s first drive, Michael took quarterback Russell Wilson’s handoff running right. Then, seemingly out of the corner of his eye, he saw left guard Mark Glowinski to his left driving Minnesota defensive tackle Tom Johnson 5 yards past the line and onto his back. Michael cut left behind that wide-open lane created by Glowinski’s pancake block and gained 10 yards.
The next play was third and 2. Michael took a read-option handoff from Wilson heading again to the right, but immediately planted his right foot and cut up the middle for a more straight-ahead burst to get those 2 yards. That decisive cut easily got Michael the first down.
"His consistency is really much, much improved, in that he is seeing the line of scrimmage really well. He’s taking advantage of the plays," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He ran kind of wild at times and was impatient at times. His sense for stuff and expectation for how the plays should come out and having the really bounce the football on teams -- because he’s really quick and can get out laterally -- is showing up more consistently.
"He’s an improved version of it again this time around. He looks good."
So good, he’s even switching the ball from his inside to outside arm on runs around the end, away from defenders. That’s a fundamental for which Michael either didn’t have time or care in his first Seahawks go-round.
"Because he is growing and maturing, he is more concerned about all of the things that are really important: his reads, his pass protection stuff, his ball catching skills," Carroll said. "And I think he is taking care of the football better, as well.
"All of his stuff fundamentally is more available to him because, in general, he’s just more mindful of how to play the position. He is more tuned in.
"And he’s just matured."
Yes, as we all contemplate this so-called "awakening," wonder why this Christine Michael looks so much better and more dependable than the first one, it may be simply this: He is a changed man.
As in, he’s not 22 years old anymore.
That was his age when the Seahawks drafted him in 2013 in the second round out of Texas A&M. He entered the league exuding an obvious sense he should be a featured back. Maybe the featured back -- and that it wouldn’t take him putting in a whole lot of extra work or focus on details to be that main man.
Problems for him were: 1.) His Seahawks had an All-Pro back who in five or so years will be considered for the Hall of Fame; and 2.) He needed extra work. A lot of it.
Most of all, he needed the Seahawks to trust him.
They gave up trying to do that last September, trading Michael to Dallas for a late-round draft choice. Then Marshawn Lynch got leg injuries and missed the first games of his Seahawks career. Rawls became the first undrafted back to rush for 160 yards or more twice in his rookie season.
Michael was gone and absolutely forgotten.
But Lynch got a sports hernia and missed months. Rawls broke his ankle and tore ligaments in December. Free-agent Bryce Brown tried and failed. Eventually, in December, the Seahawks re-signed Michael. The Texas native played in five games for the Cowboys then was a free agent after Dallas and then Washington released him.
In three games and two starts for Rawls and Lynch to end Seattle’s 2015 regular season, Michael rushed for 192 yards and an average of 4.9 yards per carry. That was above his career average of 4.7. It was a yard and half better than his average with Dallas before the Cowboys released him last fall.
In February, Lynch retired. In May, Michael seemed an endangered man on the Seahawks roster. Seattle drafted three running backs, C.J. Prosise in the third round, Alex Collins in the fifth round and Zac Brooks in the seventh. Furthermore, by June the team became convinced Rawls would be recovered from the broken ankle to be Seattle’s lead runner for the start of the 2016 regular season.
That left Michael with a third and perhaps last chance to impress the team that first believed in him three years ago, a short window in training camp and preseason games while Rawls recovered.
Also in May, he had a son, Christine Michael Jr. It’s why Michael now wears “Michael Sr.” on the back of his practice and game jerseys.
Perhaps nothing matures a man faster than fathering a child.
"I just want them to trust me," Michael said last week after his seven carries and 44 yards in the first quarter at Kansas City.
Now, three impressive weeks and two revitalizing preseason games later, they do. Prosise, expected to be the third-down back, and Brooks have been out with hamstring injuries for the majority of this month. Collins has struggled in two preseason games at pass blocking and short-yardage running.
Carroll said this week when Rawls returns he and Michael can provide a potent, "one-two punch" in the Seahawks’ new running game.
And Rawls may be fully back soon. Carroll said after Thursday’s exhibition Rawls will be "full go" in practice next week. He could play in Thursday’s exhibition against Dallas, when starters are likely to play into the third quarter.
Michael will be there, too. The Seahawks can now finally count on that.
Endangered no more.