Seahawks hope Christine Michael’s focus on small stuff brings big improvement
Christine Michael, the Seahawks’ explosive but inconsistent second-year running back, is on course, but still has miles to go.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks at Oakland, 7 p.m., Ch. 13
RENTON – If there was any misunderstanding about running back Christine Michael’s ambitions this season, he went to great lengths to clarify.
Like a politician on the campaign trail, Michael spun questions toward his agenda. And the words he kept coming back to — he said “small things” eight times in four minutes — said as much about where he was as where he needs to go.
“Doing the small things right,” he said. “Knowing who to block, ball security, the passing game.”
In other words, all the details that kept Michael sidelined his rookie season. Running backs are often defined by yards and carries and big plays. But Michael’s education has dealt with the subtleties he overlooked as a rookie.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t say I was a complete pro,” Michael said. “Especially not like I am now. I wasn’t putting the preparation in last year. It was all about running the ball, trying to score. But now it’s more of a team mindset. Everybody has a job to do out here, and everybody has their part. You have to play your part.”
Michael is an example of a player whose intricacies are trying to catch up with his potential. Coach Pete Carroll called him the team’s most improved player last week, and that’s after he said in February that Michael had the most breakout potential of anybody on the team.
But he still is inconsistent. He fumbled twice in his first two exhibition games. Against San Diego, he picked up a blitzing linebacker and stopped him cold. On another play, he forgot to help tackle Alvin Bailey block before going out for a pass — what’s known as chipping.
“You might see the great cut one time and then not the next, and it’s the exact same scenario,” offensive-line coach Tom Cable said. “He comes across and makes a great pickup and then he’s supposed to chip and then, ‘Oh, I’m going to get out for my route and, oops, I forgot to chip.’ It’s just being able to put a good play together and then a good one the next time and the next time. When that becomes his habit, then he owns it. Right now, he doesn’t own it.”
Marshawn Lynch also needed time to adjust when he got to Seattle, at least in terms of running the ball. He wasn’t always patient, which is a requirement in Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme. Former NFL fullback Heath Evans described a running back’s role in zone-blocking schemes as being the conductor, only the band can’t see you.
“So the band can’t see you leading,” Evans said last year, “but they’ve just been taught what they’re supposed to do.”
Rookie fullback Kiero Small watched an exhibition game from last year, and one of the things he noticed was Michael’s improvement from year one to two. He said Michael is more patient, and he’s trusting the play to dictate where he needs to go.
Small calls this going from point A to point B within the design of the play, and it’s just as important as having the physical tools to break a big run.
“There’s a time and place to use your speed and your quickness,” Michael said. “First, you’ve got to find the hole, you’ve got to read the guys and then you can burst out there and get as many yards as you can.”
Said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: “Just because you break off a big run, you may or may not have hit it right. Or sometimes you get a small gain and there was a bigger gain to be had. Reading it right, getting on his landmark and then letting that take him to where he needs to go instead of doing something outside of the system.”
Former NFL scout Louis Riddick tweeted this summer that Michael is the most gifted running back drafted in the last five years. Larry Jackson, the Texas A&M strength and conditioning coach, worked with Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma and Michael at A&M. He said Michael is just as explosive as Peterson.
But the Seahawks need to trust Michael, and in that sense he is still behind Lynch and Robert Turbin.
“What’s really cool about Christine is from where he started and where he’s at is a country mile,” Cable said. “And yet there’s another country mile to go. Some people look at that and say, ‘The glass is half empty and that’s not good.’ No, actually he’s on pace to be what you want him to be.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or firstname.lastname@example.org