The most encouraging part of Christine Michael's preseason might be the fact that his most memorable play didn't come with the ball in his hands.
Normally that might not seem like a good thing for a running back, but when it comes to Michael, the Seahawks' second-round pick in 2013, having a highlight-reel block instead of a highlight-reel run represents progress. Michael's athletic ability has never been in doubt, and big runs in practice and preseason games are why he became a fan favorite over the past two seasons despite limited playing time in the regular season.
But despite all that potential, Michael has appeared in only 14 games while carrying 52 times for 254 yards. One of the biggest reasons why Michael has had a hard time getting on the field is the play of the two backs ahead of him, Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, but even so, for as much as coaches and general manager John Schneider have raved about Michael's ability, his lack of touches after being the team's top pick in the draft two years ago has been surprising.
And Michael knows that if that is going to change in his third season, it's going to be because he becomes more of a complete back—the type of back who makes not just solid blocks to pick up an extra rusher, which he did on a couple of occasions, but one who can also do things like level linebacker Dee Ford with huge block, which Michael did in the second quarter to help buy time for Russell Wilson on third down. And it's not just his blocking that Michael wants to get improve. He knows he needs to be a more complete back, from ball security to pass-catching to simply having a better grasp of the offense.
"I'm just focusing a lot better," Michael said when asked how he's different this year. "Taking it a play at a time, not worrying about the previous plays, and just going out doing the best I can and having fun.
"Just the mental aspect of the game, working on the small things, the details—holding onto the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, making great reads out of the backfield, just contributing the best I can."
On ball security in particular—Michael fumbled twice last preseason, and had one in Seattle's preseason opener this year—Michael said it's just a matter of focusing on doing the right thing rather than thinking about a big play every time he gets the ball.
"Caring about the ball first instead of trying to make a move and make big plays," he said. "Just worry about the ball first, get what you can get."
Michael feels like there's still room for growth, but his coaches have noticed improvement in a player they still hope can be a big part of their offense.
"Yeah, he had a couple great blocks," Carroll said. "Unfortunately (Ford) got hurt on one of them, but that's an illustration that his game is rounding out and he's doing a nice job. He ran the ball well when he had his chances, when he had an opportunity he hit it really well."
Because Michael struggled to get on the field during his first two seasons, and because few things in football get people more excited than a talented but unknown running back, there has been speculation this summer that undrafted rookies Thomas Rawls and Rod Smith could push Michael for the No. 3 running back job, and possibly a roster spot, but Carroll seemed to dismiss that notion when asked about that possibility.
"Well they're just kind of trying to make it, they're just trying to hang right now," Carroll said. "I don't know if they are pushing anybody but pushing themselves right now to try to just figure it out. Find a way into special teams, show that they can do something when they get a chance, and we've really like the way they've competed so far. Unfortunately, there's only two more games here. We'll figure it out, but they're doing well."
That's not to say that Rawls and Smith aren't doing well, just that they still have a lot of work to do to catch up with Michael. As for the notion that he has something to prove in his third season, Michael dismisses that notion, saying, "It's a blessing just to be out here. I'm just coming out here and having fun, doing the best I can, and I'll let that speak for myself."
And Michael doesn't consider his first two years in the league a disappointment, but rather a learning opportunity.
"No, not at all, man," he said. "Those were my learning years. Just get out here and learn, learn as much as I can from the guys in front of me—Turbo, Marshawn, (Derrick Coleman). Just keep having fun, once you're having fun, it makes the game a lot easier."