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Christine Michael takes a big step in Seahawks’ preseason-opening win

Danny O'Neil believes the Seahawks like the combination of Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls. (AP)

KANSAS CITY – The preseason is no time to draw any conclusions.

That’s what made coach Pete Carroll’s declaration regarding running back Christine Michael so significant after he gained 44 yards in the Seahawks’ 17-16 preseason win over the Chiefs.

“He’s an NFL football player,” Carroll said after Michael started against the Chiefs.

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That’s important because there has never been a doubt about the man’s talent. The Seahawks chose him in the second round of the 2013 draft because they knew he not only had NFL ability, but thought he possessed a combination of size and speed to be one of the most explosive backs in the league. Michael’s first two years with Seattle were more notable for what he didn’t do, though.

He didn’t play all that much behind Marshawn Lynch as a rookie. He didn’t stop fumbling in the preseason during his second year. And then last season, Michael didn’t even make the team as he was traded to Dallas for a seventh-round pick.

It was puzzling. He didn’t do anything overwhelmingly wrong. He wasn’t out of shape. He didn’t get arrested. He didn’t punch a teammate. He wasn’t arrested for threatening to punch a teammate.

He liked to celebrate a little too much and he didn’t switch the football into his left hand when he should. There was also the fact he dabbled as a rapper making mixtapes, but in the range of NFL indiscretions that stuff was pretty minor. The closest you could come to concrete criticism was that he just wasn’t as consistent as he needed to be, and that he had thought his selection in the NFL draft signaled that he had arrived.

Well, three years after the Seahawks drafted him, Michael has, in fact, arrived. And while his performance was hardly the most dramatic thing about Seattle’s last-second exhibition victory, the way he ran may turn out to be the most telling fact for this season.

Of his seven carries in Kansas City, four resulted in gains of 8 or more yards.

“I really liked what he did,” Carroll said.

It’s tempting to characterize this as a continuation of what Seattle saw from Michael at the end of last season. The Seahawks brought him back after Thomas Rawls’ season-ending injury, and Michael was absolutely adequate in three regular-season games and a playoff start in Minnesota.

But even after that Seattle declined to tender a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent, he came back to the Seahawks foe-r a onyear, $675,000 contract, which is the NFL minimum for a player with three years of experience (though Michael’s deal does include workout and roster bonuses).

After Seattle drafted three running backs, the numbers were adding up against Michael on the roster, yet after two weeks of practice and one preseason game he has vaulted himself into strong consideration for not just a roster spot but playing time.

“He’s an explosive, dynamic athlete,” Carroll said, “and so we’re just going to keep growing with him. And when Thomas gets out there, those two guys give you a little one-two punch that we’re kind of excited about.”

Rawls did not dress for the game, having just returned to practice this week after that season-ending ankle injury. Rookies C.J. Prosise and Zac Brooks didn’t play either, having been out with hamstring injuries, and while fifth-round pick Alex Collins got some time, it was Michael who showed not only an explosiveness, but an ability to operate in the cracks of Seattle’s run-blocking scheme. The dark creases. That’s what offensive line coach Tom Cable calls them, and Michael showed an ability to run right off his guard’s hip into the mosh pit and keep churning.

As for Michael’s reaction to the game?

“It felt good, man,” Michael said. “There’s always room for improvement, of course. Got the win. Team did an amazing job. Offensive line did an amazing job. Communication went well. Everyone did their job and was having fun doing it. I was happy I was able to contribute.”

Kind of boring, huh? Understated. Well, that’s exactly what Seattle has been hoping to hear.

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