Christine Michael dressed silently with his head down along that back wall of the visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. His back was turned to the mass of attention, microphones, cameras and notepads his replacement, rookie C.J. Prosise, was attracting at the locker immediately to his left.
Turns out that juxtaposition of bad times-good times was Michael’s last scene as a Seahawk.
Seattle waived its leading rusher this season on Tuesday, which on its face sounds looney. But Prosise, the third-round pick in May who’d been delayed for more than a month by a broken hand, had 24 touches of the ball to Michael’s six on Sunday night at New England. Plus, Thomas Rawls is coming back at running back this week, too.
Plus, plus: The Seahawks have Troymaine Pope, the undrafted rookie who led them in rushing this preseason, lurking and waiting on their practice squad.
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The Seahawks also waived defensive tackle Sealver Siliga and signed defensive tackle John Jenkins. Jenkins was the Saints’ third-round draft choice in 2013 whom New Orleans waived last week after rookie first-round pick Sheldon Rankins returned from injury and played his first game at defensive tackle.
Michael ran for 469 yards and six touchdowns in nine games but yielded his starting job to Prosise Sunday night at New England.
Michael had his career day of 106 yards on 20 carries and his first two touchdowns of the season on Sept. 25 against San Francisco. But since that big day against the worst run defense in the Western Hemisphere, he has rushed for just 58, 64, 52, 40, 1 and 22 yards. Yes, 1 yard, on Nov. 7 against Buffalo on five carries against a Bills defense that had been 25th in the league against the run entering that game.
Michael made mistakes that were relapses into his failed, first go-round with the Seahawks. He went out of bounds untouched short of the line to gain at Arizona Oct. 23. He flinched out of his tailback stance on second and goal at the 5 on a drive at New Orleans the next week to ruin a drive that ended in a field goal instead of a touchdown -- in a game Seattle lost by five, 25-20.
In Week 2 at Los Angeles, with 45 seconds left and the Seahawks driving from their own 12 to the winning touchdown, Michael lost a fumble trying to bull between two defenders for a first down at the Rams 25. Seattle lost 9-3.
Michael wouldn’t have been the Seahawks’ lead back this season if Rawls hadn’t cracked his fibula in that second game Sept. 18 at Los Angeles. Coach Pete Carroll said on Monday he expects Rawls, the replacement for the retired Marshawn Lynch as lead back for this season, to play on Sunday against Philadelphia for the first time since that injury.
So the Seahawks’ running game, which tripled its output against the Patriots from the previous week yet still didn’t manage 100 yards, will press on for the rest of this season without Michael. He has failed to stick for the second time with Seattle since the team drafted him in the second round out of Texas A&M in 2013.
In September 2015, the Seahawks gave away Michael to Dallas in a trade.
Prosise was so impressive Sunday night against the Patriots in his first career start, teammate Doug Baldwin said twice in 30 seconds that the rookie “lit up our sideline.” And not just with his 66 yards rushing on 17 carries and seven catches for 87 yards. He got popped on more than one of those catches down the field, but held onto the ball and kept running for big gains.
The most telling play for why Michael is gone and Prosise is the new, hot item in the Seahawks’ offense came in the first quarter against New England. Prosise caught a pass on third and 6 from Russell Wilson in the left flat near midfield. He ran past the line to gain down the left sideline. He could have easily stepped out of bounds -- as Michael did without contact against the Cardinals. Instead Prosise, a wide receiver at Notre Dame for his first three college football seasons until early in the Irish’s 2015 season, turned his shoulders toward the New England goal line. He slammed into Patriots safety Duron Harmon to gain 5 more yards, for a total of 18 yards to set up a field goal. Prosise ran Harmon over far more than Harmon tackled him.
On the opposite sideline, his Seahawks teammates went bonkers. If there was a light-goes-off moment cementing Prosise’s new prominence and Michael’s imminent exit, it was that play.
“Not only that, but some of the hits he took (in) what we call ‘dark creases’ in the offense: When the hole is not really there and you to trust that the offensive line is going to open it up,” Baldwin said, describing the yards on which Lynch made an All-Pro career until he retired in January. “And he did that several times. He went into the ‘dark crease,’ got smacked a few times, but hopped right back up -- and his facial expressions and his mannerisms didn’t change. It was just business as usual.
“One catch on the sidelines I remember he didn’t step out of bounds. He sought contact and it lit up our sidelines. To see a guy do that who’s been struggling with injuries, he shows his dedication to his teammates when he does stuff like that.”
That, as much as the yards and the potential, is why Prosise is rising in prominence with a possible co-starring role with the returning Rawls in the backfield.
And it’s why Michael is an ex-Seahawk for the second time in 14 months.