RENTON – The baseball cap was neon green and worn backwards.
Not that Christine Michael needed that to stand out. He was first in line among Seattle’s running backs, trying to put his best foot forward in this third chance at making a first impression as the Seahawks began their Organized Team Activities on Tuesday.
“This is his time,” coach Pete Carroll said after the workout. “We’re going to push him in that regard.”
Opportunities have been tough to come by for Michael in his first two years as a Seahawk. Opportunities, however, are what he will have plenty of between now and the start of the regular season. Robert Turbin is recovering from hip surgery and Marshawn Lynch is, well, he’s Marshawn Lynch, which means he’s not doing all that much in the team’s offseason program. Lynch won’t be doing all that much in the team’s four preseason games, either, which leaves Michael ample opportunity.
“He wants to be a front-line, first-line back,” Carroll said, “and he’s got tremendous talent and we’re going to see how it goes. With high expectations.”
Yes, it’s time for the annual offseason feature about the potential emergence of Christine Michael. In fact, there’s a formula to it at this point.
Step 1: Start by stating he was the fifth running back chosen in the 2013 draft, selected one pick after the Packers tabbed workhorse Eddie Lacy in the second round.
Step 2: Mention Michael’s extraordinary combination of size and speed. At 221 pounds, he’s as big as any back on Seattle’s roster and faster than all of them.
Step 3: Carefully point out that the 52 carries Michael has totaled in two NFL seasons aren’t necessarily a criticism of him so much as a reflection of how productive Lynch has been as Seattle’s starter.
Step 4: Mix in a few buzzwords like maturity and consistency when talking about Michael’s growth in his first two NFL seasons.
Add it all together and you’ve got the quintessential NFL offseason story on a potential contributor who may be on the cusp of a breakout season.
Lynch is back this season after getting a big, fat raise, but he’s essentially on a year-to-year basis going forward. Michael is now midway through his rookie contract, and his future in Seattle will depend on whether he’s ready to grab hold of the opportunities that will come his way.
“He’s an exciting back,” Carroll said, “and he’s so comfortable now. I can’t imagine we don’t see him at his very best.”
Just one question, then: Why haven’t we seen him at his best before? After all, under Carroll the Seahawks have thrived on giving opportunities to younger players even if they’re not ready to be starters.
Yet Michael did not dress the first five games last season, has carried more than five times in only two games in his career and has yet to score a touchdown. Lacy gets more carries in a month from Green Bay than Michael has gotten in two seasons.
Carroll was asked what has kept Michael from making a bigger impact so far.
“Consistency,” Carroll said. “Just coming back. Have a good game and come on back and have another one. Stay with the workload, and handle the bumps and the bruises.”
Michael had a hamstring injury that slowed him entering the regular season in 2014. He also didn’t do himself any favors with two fumbles in the preseason.
It’s too soon to say it will be different for Michael this season. In fact, you won’t really know until August when the team starts playing preseason games and opponents start tackling.
“You can see his assignments and his consistency here,” Carroll said, “but until we start playing football, at that position, you can’t evaluate.”
For now, there’s just Michael and his neon green hat and the hope that this year will be different.