John McGrath

John McGrath: Has Christine Michael finally blossomed into a pro?

Seahawks running back Christine Michael was effective in his return to his former team, rushing for a career-high 84 yards on a career-high 16 carries Sunday against the Browns.
Seahawks running back Christine Michael was effective in his return to his former team, rushing for a career-high 84 yards on a career-high 16 carries Sunday against the Browns. dperine@thenewstribune.com

The draft choice bust that was running back Christine Michael returned Sunday afternoon to CenturyLink Field.

He’s still got the burst and strength and quickness the Seahawks saw when they made the second-rounder from Texas A&M their top overall selection in 2013. And yet this version of Michael is different from the one whose serial underachieving found him traded to Dallas and, two months later, cut from the Cowboys.

This version of Michael, signed last week to help the Seahawks tread water until Marshawn Lynch returns from abdominal surgery, seemed to comprehend that his career, at age 24, had reached the intersection of Last Chance Avenue and the Street of Broken Dreams.

The revelation wasn’t entirely self-achieved. Before the Seahawks’ 30-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell reminded Michael of what was at stake for him — and the consequences of failing to take advantage of his opportunity.

Michael responded with a career-high 84 yards on a career-high 16 carries — surprising-to-the-point-of-astounding numbers for somebody who before Sunday had gained more than 35 yards in a game only once.

He hit holes at full speed, kept churning his legs after contact, used an occasional stiff arm and, all in all, looked like Thomas Rawls before his season-ending ankle injury. Which is appropriate, because you might recall that it was Rawls whose impressive work during the preseason made Michael expendable.

It’s not unusual for NFL players with reputations for immaturity to blossom into total pros. What’s unusual is that in this case, the blossoming seems to have been achieved overnight.

“It’s all part of growth,” Michael said. “As a young player, I had it in mind it was all about me. It’s not, man. It’s way bigger than me. It’s about this city, the 12s, the coaching staff, the team. I’m just a little piece.”

Last season, Michael frustrated Bevell and head coach Pete Carroll when a 9-yard run was celebrated by a triumphant pounding of the chest. Exaggerating the silliness of such a celebration was the fact the 9-yard run came on a third-and-10.

But the running back was all business Sunday.

“I was playing for myself, playing for my family and, most important, playing for the guy upstairs,” said Michael, whose reference presumably wasn’t about Seahawks owner and suite-dweller Paul Allen. “I wanted to show this team I can be focused and help contribute as much as possible.”

Concurred Carroll: “He was very serious about adding to the team. He’s been through a lot since he was here before, and he recognized the opportunity. He was very clear about it. We were looking for some help, and he would have a chance to help us, and I thought he did a very good job today.”

Carroll also praised Bryce Brown, another recent acquisition whose 18-yard gain against the Browns was the longest of a running back trio that included Derrick Coleman. Usually a fullback, Coleman took the ball on the Seahawks’ first two snaps, finishing with 10 yards on five carries.

“Derrick didn’t get a whole lot of carries,” said Carroll. “Once we got going, we wanted to stay with the other guys as we saw it happening. Kind of like I told you, we were going to play it by ear.”

Sort of a running back by committee?

“We’re not using that word,” Carroll answered. “We don’t know that word. We’re just going to go one day at a time and see how that goes.”

As for Michael, he’ll briefly savor a day he had reason to doubt would come when Washington released him from its practice squad last week.

“Being out there, man,” Michael of his takeaway perspective. “Just being with the guys — the guys that drafted me, the guys I call my brothers, the coaching staff. It was a blessing to be a part of.”

Considering Michael’s unhappy history with the Seahawks, it also was a miracle to behold.

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