Christine Michael sounded thankful. Sounded as if he knew this was a cherished, unexpected, second chance with the Seahawks -- perhaps his last one in the NFL.
How much does the running back realize this, in the team’s view?
“I’m counting on it,” Tom Cable, Seattle offensive-line coach and coordinator of the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense, said Wednesday hours after the team re-signed the 2013 second-round pick they had traded away in September.
“I think we all are counting on it.
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“I’ve talked to him about it: What an opportunity,” Cable said. “It’s like someone walks into your house and says, ‘Here, I’m going to give you a nice chunk of change here.’ He’s got the same opportunity. He’s been given a gift. That’s all you can ask for.
“So it’s up to him to do right by this gift and understand where this team is at — and move forward with them. Because they are all pulling together right now. The sooner he recognizes that and just jumps in line, the better.”
Where the Seahawks (8-5) are right now, besides on a four-game winning streak that has put them squarely inside the playoff race, is down to their Plan F at running back.
Coach Pete Carroll announced the surprise Wednesday that the Seahawks had re-signed Michael to help their ailing backfield, which is without Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls because of injuries. Carroll cited Michael’s familiarity with the offense and the lack of time to teach some other free-agent running back it before Sunday’s game against Cleveland and beyond as a chief reason Michael is back.
Judging by the first looks and words from Michael, he’s gotten Cable’s message.
Before he even spoke his first public word upon his unexpected return, Michael smiled. It was a grin that seemed as wide as the hallway in which he was standing next to the team’s indoor practice field. It was the grin of a player given up on by three teams in the past three months coming back to his most comfortable NFL home.
“It’s a blessing, first off, to be back with the guys that drafted me, the guys who got me,” he said.
“Man, I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to be with the guys that I call my brothers.”
He said even as he bounced from Dallas to Washington, he remained in contact with those “brothers” here on the Seahawks.
Now he’s back as one of them again.
The Seahawks traded the 25-year-old Michael to the Cowboys on Sept. 6 when they chose Rawls over him to back up Lynch to begin the season. The Cowboys released Michael after he rushed for 51 yards in five games for them, including Nov. 1 when he had five carries for 20 yards against the Seahawks in Arlington, Texas. The Washington Redskins signed Michael to their practice squad but released him Tuesday.
He got the call from the Seahawks through his agent later that day, the same day Seattle put Rawls, their rookie star with 830 yards, on injured reserve with a broken ankle and torn ligaments. Rawls got hurt in the first quarter of Sunday’s win at Baltimore.
Michael’s reaction to that Seahawks’ call?
“Wow,” he said before his reunion practice Wednesday.
Michael called his tumultuous past few months “very humbling.”
Carroll said Michael, who played in 14 games with the Seahawks the last two seasons, would not necessarily be the starter, that “he’s here to help us out.” Carroll said he sat down his former failed project before the signing and listed the team’s expectations for this second go-round.
“We visited with him today about that. We were pretty clear about what our expectations are,” Carroll said. “I think he’s pretty clear on what we’re looking for, and he’s going to come out here and compete and see how much he can help us.”
The coaches’ message, exactly?
“Just consistency,” Michael said. “He said some days I’d be on a roll … then … .”
Michael drove Seahawks coaches nuts for two seasons plus this summer’s training camp for having undeniable physical talent — “he can light it up,” Cable said Wednesday — but being unable to consistently do the right thing. During a game in October 2014 at St. Louis he openly, visibly scoffed while still in formation before a play because he wasn’t getting the ball. He got pulled for that and was angrily talked to on the sidelines.
Asked what he needs to see this time to trust Michael enough for carries in games during a drive to the playoffs, coordinator and play caller Darrell Bevell said: “He just needs to come in and do what’s asked of him. Run the football. Read it well. Protect the football, as well. And hit the holes that are there. I don’t think it’s anything special that we are looking for. We just want a solid player that does what the scheme allows him to.”
The team also brought back former Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills runner Bryce Brown this week after releasing him last month and has 34-year-old third-down back Fred Jackson as an option.
Since Lynch’s last game Nov. 15 against Arizona, 10 days before abdominal surgery, Seattle has had Rawls, Jackson (two first-down carries for a total of 3 yards in the two drives immediately after Rawls got hurt last weekend) and DuJuan Harris as lead runners for at least part of games. The Seahawks waived Harris on Tuesday, two days after his 14 carries, 42 yards and lost fumble against the Ravens.
Brown could be the lead back to begin Sunday’s game against the Browns (3-10), though Carroll and Cable said fullback Derrick Coleman has a chance for some carries. Cable said between Brown, Michael and Coleman, the coaches would like to be able to settle upon two to lean on for running the ball against the Browns — and likely next week against St. Louis, too.
Carroll also said there’s a good chance that Lynch, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, could return this season — and that the chance will obviously increase if Seattle has playoffs games to play past the final three regular-season ones, the last one being Jan. 3 at Arizona.
Brown, recruited by Carroll when the coach was leading USC a half-dozen years ago, has a prime chance to be the featured back until at least then.
“This league is about opportunity,” the 24-year-old Brown said, three weeks after Seattle released him for the second time . “My opportunity is in front of me right now.”
Carroll used the same word for what he’s given Michael again with the Seahawks.
“He has had a tough go of it” lately, Carroll said. “He seems very serious, like he wants to do something with this opportunity.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle