Despite changes, Seahawks still confident in secondary

Thanks to a series of injuries, Seattle's secondary features a rookie and a guy who was employed as a loan officer four days ago. Surprisingly, the Seahawks still are confident, writes John Clayton.

Updated: January 5, 2007, 8:35 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- During the past two weeks, linebacker Julian Peterson watched three cornerbacks -- Marcus Trufant, Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Williams -- go down with serious injuries. For the Seattle Seahawks' coaches, it meant extra work. For Peterson, it was déjà vu.

"The same thing happened in 2002 when I was on a 49ers playoff team," Peterson said. "We had about three corners and a safety go down. I had to end up playing corner. Keyshawn Johnson lined up against me and kept talking about how he could outrun me."

Kelly Jennings
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSuddenly, rookie CB Kelly Jennings is the experienced one in the Seahawks secondary.
Peterson won't line up at corner against the Cowboys during Saturday's NFC wild-card playoff game, but he'll undoubtedly flash back to that 2002 49ers playoff game against the Bucs. The only remaining Seahawks cornerback is rookie first-round choice Kelly Jennings, who weighs only 178 pounds. Mike Holmgren will move safety Jordan Babineaux to the other starting corner spot and fill the third cornerback role with one of two players signed in the past two weeks: former Cowboy Pete Hunter or former Titan Rich Gardner.

"Anytime I make the playoffs, all the corners go down," Peterson said with a snicker. "We'll be fine. We've got enough guys so I won't be playing corner. That was in my younger days when I was a little faster. I'll just pass rush and play linebacker and do what I do."

But for the record, the Bucs won that game against the 49ers, 31-6, as Brad Johnson, then the Bucs quarterback, took advantage of the holes in that 49ers defense. Peterson and the Seahawks hope for a better result this week.

Believe it or not, the Seahawks say they feel pretty good about their chances. Defensive coordinator John Marshall says he likes what he has seen on the practice field this week. Gardner and Hunter practiced well enough to allow the Seahawks to run their normal defense, which includes some blitzing but a lot of Cover 2 zone.

"We'll run our defense," Marshall said. "Both players [Hunter and Gardner] are veterans and both have proven themselves on the practice field. So far, we haven't scaled back."

The challenge will be matching up Babineaux, a safety playing corner, and Jennings with Terry Glenn and Terrell Owens, who outweighs Jennings by more than 40 pounds. Bill Parcells might try to rotate his receivers in a way to match Glenn's speed against Babineaux and Owens' size advantage against Jennings.

Or will he?

"I don't think that we will change too much," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "You are going to see on film what you feel like you can attack and where you are going to try to go with the ball and what you are going to do offensively. I am sure they are going have some younger guys playing and some different guys we don't know a lot about. But at some point, you can't judge guys you haven't seen on film too much either."

Jennings probably will start on the right side, which would put him against Glenn. That would leave Babineaux on the left side going against Owens. In nickel coverage, Babineaux might play more to the slot while Hunter would have the best chance of playing the outside receivers.

There will be times Jennings will draw Owens, but Marshall isn't concerned.

"One of the things when we drafted Kelly is we talked to him about going against bigger receivers. He is a smaller corner, but as a small corner you have to learn to play against big people, otherwise you won't survive," Marshall said. "Kelly has gone against big receivers and seldom did I see him knocked down."

Still, there is a lot of uncertainty. Just a few days ago, Hunter was a loan officer for a mortgage company and was studying to be a border security officer. His loan office wasn't too far from the Cowboys' facility. His assimilation into the Seahawks' plan came so fast, Mike Holmgren screwed up his name once when recently discussing the secondary situation with the media.

Babineaux, Jennings, Hunter and Gardner spent extra time watching Cowboys tape in preparation for the game. And for all the uncertainties in the Seattle secondary, the Cowboys are challenged, too. Romo visits one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, and he's been struggling with mistakes the past six weeks.

Romo has forced a few extra throws a game to Owens, who is among the league leaders in dropped passes.

"We've watched a lot of tape and watched how Tony Romo delivers the ball," Babineaux said. "He doesn't have a main target. He delivers the ball to a lot of different receivers. What's showed up on tape in the past couple of weeks, Romo has been looking at T.O. a little more, but Terry Glenn has his place in the offense, too."

Peterson may not know much about all of the cornerbacks he will play with Saturday, but he'll be thanking them for at least one thing: They'll be lining up against Owens and Glenn, so he won't have to.

John Clayton is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer