GREEN BAY – The quirks of life in the NFL haven’t stopped Christine Michael from talking with his “brothers” this week.
He rattled their names off one by one. Michael Bennett. Jeremy Lane. Frank Clark. Thomas Rawls. Four weeks ago, they were Michael’s teammates with the Seattle Seahawks.
Doesn’t feel that long ago.
“We miss each other,” said Michael, the Green Bay Packers' newest running back. “We’re brothers, man. Just checking on me, how I’m doing, how I’m following along. Mike’s been asking about the weather, ‘How’s the weather up there? How they been treating you?’ Just checking on them, man. I like that. They let me know how they are.
“I talk to those guys daily, like I’m still there. Lifelong friends.”
It isn’t uncommon for former teammates to stay in contact — even frequently — once they no longer play for the same team. Several Packers offensive linemen remain close with former left guard Josh Sitton, who now plays for the Chicago Bears.
For Michael, it’s simply his turn to navigate the oddity of friendly competition.
This band of brothers were together for many big games in Seattle, including their 2014 NFC championship game triumph against the Packers. They went to two Super Bowls — winning one, coming up one yard short in the other.
Three of the four names Michael mentioned among his frequent calls and texts will line up against him Sunday. He thought about that a moment, realizing his former teammates will be trying to tackle him — and not too kindly — when they arrive at Lambeau Field this weekend.
Lifelong friends? Brothers?
“Yeah,” Michael said, “it’ll be a different thing.”
Michael will exchange pleasantries on the field before kickoff. Then, a switch will flip. He could play an important role against his former team in a game his new team needs to win.
For one, the information Michael could provide the Packers this week carries much value. The Seahawks will have to account for Michael’s institutional knowledge, making adjustments accordingly. But Michael might be on the cusp of filling a significant role in the Packers' running game.
Since arriving in Green Bay last month, Michael’s focus has been learning a new playbook. He finally got a meaningful sample size of carries last week against the Houston Texans, rushing nine times. He said he’s ready for more touches.
“I’m ready to go, man,” Michael said. “I know this offense. If they throw me in there, I don’t really have any MAs (missed assignments), man. I’m just ready to go.”
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Coach Mike McCarthy said this week Michael got too many carries against a box loaded with eight — or even nine — defenders. On paper, Michael’s 19 yards against the Texans were unimpressive. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry.
But Michael provided a little more burst to the run game.
His first carry Sunday came early in the second quarter, a 7-yard gain to start the Packers' third possession. It was one play after James Starks lost three yards on a third-and-1, when the veteran ran parallel to the line of scrimmage instead of cutting north and south.
Michael’s ability to hit the hole quickly was something this Packers offense has been missing.
“He’s got some juice,” left guard Lane Taylor said. “He’s got some juice to him, for sure. I think everyone notices that. We like having a guy like that, that has some twitch to him. He’s kind of one of those guys that just, give him an inch and he’s going to take it to the house. It’s good to block for a guy like that."
Michael isn’t the only option the Packers have this weekend to infuse their running game.
Perhaps their best runner last week was Ty Montgomery, who continues to make his transition from receiver. Montgomery got six carries for 40 yards against the Texans, averaging 6.7 yards per carry in his most prominent run production in a month.
When asked Thursday, McCarthy didn’t provide a cap for how many times Montgomery can carry the football in a game.
“He can handle as many opportunities as he gets,” McCarthy said. “How that unfolds really depends on how the game goes, but I have no questions about his endurance.”
Even still, there’s a big difference in the NFL between a traditional running back and a receiver splitting time at that position.
Michael remains the Seahawks' leading rusher this season — by more than 200 yards — despite being released long enough ago to miss their past three games. His 117 carries are almost double anyone else.
Earlier this season, it looked like Michael was on his way to becoming a workhorse in the Seahawks' backfield. He was the heir apparent to Marshawn Lynch, and treated as such. The Seahawks gave him 20 carries against the San Francisco 49ers. Eighteen in two other games.
Michael admitted he was surprised when the Seahawks released him. He wasn’t the only one.
“You know the game, man,” Bennett said. “There’s no loyalty to the player. It’s all to the fans and to the organization. A player can only do as much as he can possibly do, and when the organization decides to make a change, they make a change. They don’t talk to the player about it, or talk about what they think he could do different. They just make the change, and I think they just made a change for him.
“Ultimately, I think he’s a great back. He has everything you can need in a back — the vision, the agility, the speed and on top of that, he has the heart and he has the work ethic to be a great player in the NFL.”
Michael was quick to point out it isn’t the first time he’s faced the oddity of friendly competition. Last season, the Seahawks traded Michael to the Dallas Cowboys. He played the Seahawks four weeks later, rushing five times for 20 yards in a one-point loss.
He’d like a different outcome this time, and a few more yards. But it’s business, not personal. At least that’s how Michael wants to view it publicly.
“It’s all about football,” Michael said. “We’re focused during the week, of course. We’ll probably put it all out there this Sunday when we put it out on the field. We’ll laugh and joke then, but I’m sure those guys are focused on their jobs as well as I am.”
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