Notebook: Alexander Returns to Practice


Posted Nov 29, 2007


Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander returned to practice this week after missing the last three weeks with a sprained left knee. Depending upon how Alexander looks and feels in practice, he very well could play at Philadelphia on Sunday.

For any other team, having its starting running back return to the lineup would be a welcome diversion. But things have changed with the Seahawks since the last time Alexander played, and how the 2005 MVP fits into the new direction of the offense remains to be seen.

Because the running game was so moribund when Alexander was injured, and because he had not scored a rushing touchdown since Week 2, coach Mike Holmgren reverted to the pass-first offense that he employed earlier in his career.

That means that Alexander no longer is the featured weapon -- and in fact his assets are not exactly conducive to what the Seahawks are attempting to do. Unlike Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, Alexander does not block well and has difficulty catching the ball, particularly since he has a cracked bone in his left wrist that will not be fully healed until after the season.

In addition, in the games immediately following Alexander's worst three-game stretch of his career, Maurice Morris gained 89, 87 and 79 yards, with a combined five receptions.

So now, even if Alexander is able to play, the coaching staff says that Morris will continue to see time.

"I'm not going to worry about it all that much, to be honest with you," Holmgren said. "We're going to line up whoever's out there, then I have to control that just a little bit with what I do and the plays I call. But that becomes too hard. I'm not good enough to do that. I just have to call the game. Whoever's in there is in there. I expect them to do the job. Shaun and I talked (Tuesday), Mo will continue to play, and Shaun understands that. So it was all good."

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said that the team will continue to do what it has done to piece together a three-game win streak: pass. If that means less of a role for Alexander, so be it. "You have to take the bitter with the sweet," Mitchell said.

Of course, nothing is simple where this issue is concerned. Morris sprained his ankle toward the end of last week's win over St. Louis and is not likely to practice until Friday, which means that Alexander, if he can play, likely will start, with Morris coming off the bench in passing situations, if he can play. The person who should be most concerned, however, is quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has been beaten up because of shoddy pass protection in recent weeks.

Morris is a much better pass blocker than Alexander, who tends to get one hit on a pass rusher and then allows him to go. The Seahawks are devising schemes to protect Hasselbeck better this week, but Alexander's wrist injury certainly won't help him fend off blitzing linebackers.

Or catch passes.

"If Matt throws the ball to him, he tries really hard to catch it," Holmgren said. "And he's caught some of them. But it's hard. It's hard. It's just too bad it is what it is. It affects his hand. It affects his ability to catch. But if we throw it to him, he's going to try and catch it. And he's caught some of them. So we just keep positive about it."

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. Eagles lead series, 6-4, although the Seahawks won the last meeting, in Philadelphia in 2005, 42-0. That was a game in which the Seahawks intercepted Philly's quarterbacks four times, returning two for touchdowns.

NOTES, QUOTES

--In the last meeting between Seattle and Philadelphia, LB Lofa Tatupu intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, then on the next possession batted the ball in the air, leading to an interception by Michael Boulware.

--In that same game, the sixth-coldest in Eagles history, CB Andre Dyson returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown, then ended the game by returning a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown. Dyson no longer plays for the Seahawks.

--The field crew at Lincoln Financial Field is repairing the sod for the game, creating concerns about a repeat of the Monday night game in Pittsburgh. "There's nothing you can do about it," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "So, sometimes they do a good job of that. Sometimes, it's not so good."

--Holmgren was extremely unhappy about high snaps from Boone Stutz, which he thought forced Josh Brown to miss two field-goal attempts Sunday. On Wednesday, Holmgren chose Stutz as a verbal target.

--If Fritz Shurmur had not come to Seattle with Mike Holmgren and then retired, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson would have been Holmgren's coordinator. As it was, he followed Andy Reid to Philadelphia.

--The Seahawks have the 12th-best offense in the NFL, but they have punted the ball more (59 times) than all but five other teams. The best explanation is that they convert only 35 percent of their third downs.

--Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck and Eagles coach Andy Reid are close because Reid was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay during Hasselbeck's first few years as a backup to Brett Favre.

BY THE NUMBERS: 37 -- Three-and-out drives that the Seahawks defense has forced, which ranks third in the NFL behind only Chicago and St. Louis.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're 3-0 the last three games, so whatever we're doing is working. So we're just going to keep on rolling, and I've already told the guys I've been a part of every win and it's been fun." -- RB Shaun Alexander, who is returning this week after the Seahawks went undefeated without him.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

RB Shaun Alexander is likely to return to the starting lineup this week, assuming that he does not feel any residual soreness from his practices following three weeks off with a sprained left knee. It remains to be seen how much Alexander will be used because the Seahawks are throwing the ball more than they have in recent years, and backup Maurice Morris is a better fit. However, Morris sprained his ankle last Sunday and will be limited in practice this week. Meanwhile, starting split end D.J. Hackett is sidelined for at least two weeks with an ankle sprain and will be replaced by Bobby Engram, the team's leading receiver, who will slide to the slot when they go to the three-receiver set. Nate Burleson will be the third receiver. It appears that rookie Courtney Taylor will get some looks as the fourth receiver.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR D.J. Hackett is out with an ankle sprain.

--DT Rocky Bernard did not practice Wednesday because of a sore groin but will play Sunday.

--S Mike Green did not practice Wednesday because of a sore knee but is expected to play Sunday.

--LB Lofa Tatupu did not practice because of a rib injury but should play Sunday against the Eagles.

--DT Craig Terrill sat out Wednesday's practice because of illness but is expected to play in Philadelphia.

--RB Maurice Morris was limited in what he could do Wednesday because of an ankle, but he should play Sunday.

--C Chris Spencer had limited participation because of shoulder soreness but should play Sunday in Philadelphia.

--LB Will Herring did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury and is questionable to play.

GAME PLAN: The first thing the Seahawks must do is protect QB Matt Hasselbeck, who was harried all last week by St. Louis' blitzing defense. As the Eagles showed Sunday night vs. New England, they are able to get to the QB. If the Seahawks can do that, they have a chance to exploit Philadelphia's defense, which is ranked 22nd in the NFL. They also need to blitz to throw off A.J. Feeley or Donovan McNabb, though the Seahawks are not sure who to prepare for.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks linebackers, one of the best groups in the league, vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook, who leads the NFL in total yards (1,459) because of his versatility -- The Seahawks may have to send somebody to mirror Westbrook.

Seahawks DE Patrick Kerney, who has seven sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in his last three games, vs. Eagles RT Jon Runyan, who has started 171 consecutive games -- Kerney is second in the NFL with 10.5 sacks, the reason the Seahawks are second in the NFL in sacks behind only the Giants.

INJURY IMPACT: RB Shaun Alexander, who has missed three weeks with a sprained knee, fully participated in Wednesday's practice. If he does not have soreness, he will play Sunday, likely starting.

--WR D.J. Hackett is out with a sprained ankle, likely to be replaced in the starting lineup by Bobby Engram, who leads the team in receiving yards and catches.

--LB Lofa Tatupu did not practice because of sore ribs. It remains to be seen how he will be affected. When Patrick Kerney had a similar injury a few weeks ago, the Seahawk
s switched his side to protect his injury. However, Tatupu is a middle linebacker.



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