As the Seahawks begin their off-season program Monday, initially with a few weeks of conditioning and then with on-field drills in mid-May, there may be no more scrutinized player than second-year running back Christine Michael (other than, maybe, assessing the health of Percy Harvin, though by all accounts he should be good to go).
Michael (above in a pre-season game last year against the Raiders in a Dean Rutz photo) was the team’s highest draft choice last season, picked in the second round (with the first-rounder dealt for Harvin), taken No. 62 overall. It was a somewhat surprising pick given the team’s depth at that spot, and apparent needs elsewhere. But the Seahawks simply saw a player they valued highly at that spot, and decided he was too talented to pass up.
Like a lot of the 2013 draft class, though, Michael was essentially redshirted, with the Seahawks well-stocked at tailback with Marshawn Lynch in his prime, and Robert Turbin back as the backup. Given Turbin’s special teams capability and his greater knowledge of the system and proficiency in blocking, it was generally conceded heading into the 2013 season that he was likely to be the backup barring extenuating circumstances.
Many fans, though, became intrigued by what they saw of Michael in the preseason, when he ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing with 201 yards on 40 carries, and wondered why he didn’t play more.
This isn’t to knock what Michael did in any way, but it is worth noting that much of Michael’s production came in the second half of the three preseason games in which he played — San Diego, Green Bay and Oakland (he missed the game against Denver with back spasms). Michael rushed for 35 yards on 14 carries in the first halves of those games, the time when more regulars were on the field, and feasted when backups took over in the second half, with 166 yards on 26 carries, including a 43-yard TD run against the Packers.
Michael then got carries in just three regular season games in 2013, all in mop-up duty, with 37 yards on nine carries in the blowout of Jacksonville, 33 on eight in the blowout win at Atlanta, and nine yards on one carry against Minnesota — 79 yards on 18 carries overall, good for a 4.4 yard average, with a long of 13.
When the team for preseason games arrives, the Seahawks will undoubtedly want to see how Michael does against starting units to assess exactly where he is.
First, though, during the OTAs and mini-camp and then the early stages of training camp, they will want to see how Michael is picking up the finer points of the game — specifically, blocking and knowledge of the playbook.
Running backs coach Sherman Smith said as much in this recent story on Seahawks.com in which he made it clear that Lynch is the starter but that they will be looking to see improvement from Turbin and Michael.
When asked about Michael in that story, Smith said: “For Christine, it’s just the development that he has to go through. You see the physical part of his game, there’s no question about that. It’s the mental part where most guys have to develop.”
If Michael shows progress there, then the Seahawks obviously think he can make a major impact. Coach Pete Carroll cited Michael as a potential breakout player when talking to reporters at the NFL Combine in February.
NFL.com’s Adam Rank also recently cited Michael as a potential fantasy breakout star in 2013 in this story.
That Seattle has Michael waiting in the wings is one reason few expect the Seahawks to take a running back in this year’s draft, especially with just seven draft picks (at the moment, anyway).
With Lynch, Turbin and Michael all back, Seattle has its top three TBs from 2013 in the fold. Also back are fullbacks Derrick Coleman and Spencer Ware, who each can also play some tailback, as well. The Seahawks, in fact, were confident enough in Coleman’s ability last year that he was essentially the No. 3 tailback in the games when Michael was inactive.
The only ball carrier in 2013 who likely won’t be back this year is Michael Robinson. Robinson is an unrestricted free agent who has yet to sign with any team, so he’s available if the Seahawks need him. At the moment, though, odds are he likely won’t be back as the team will likely turn over the fullback spot to the younger Coleman and Ware.
As for tailback, as mentioned earlier, the spot for now is Lynch’s.
But he turns 28 this weekend (April 22), and with a $9 million cap hit for 2015, the Seahawks could have a tough call a year from now. How tough a call it is could depend greatly on what Michael does this year and if he shows he can be the team’s tailback of the future.
For now, watching his progress, and battle with Turbin for the backup spot, will be one of the most intriguing stories of the off-season.