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Originally published October 21, 2011 at 9:57 PM | Page modified October 22, 2011 at 6:24 PM

Seahawks backup QB's prime chance

Sunday in Cleveland just might be the best opportunity for Charlie Whitehurst to show that he's a viable, desirable starting quarterback in the NFL.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

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RENTON — This isn't Charlie Whitehurst's first audition, and it won't necessarily be his last chance.

Sunday in Cleveland, however, just might be the best opportunity for Whitehurst to show that he's a viable, desirable starting quarterback in the NFL.

Tarvaris Jackson is listed as doubtful because of a strained pectoral muscle, which means Whitehurst is expected to make his first start of this NFL season, the third start of his Seahawks career.

"We'll go all the way up to game time to see where he is," coach Pete Carroll said of Jackson. "But we've prepared Charlie, and we're ready to do that."

Jackson is one of three Seahawks starters Seattle likely will be without. Center Max Unger is doubtful because of a foot injury, and Lemuel Jeanpierre is expected to start in his place. Tight end Zach Miller is out after failing to be cleared following a head injury he suffered two weeks ago, which leaves Anthony McCoy the only healthy tight end on the active roster. Expect Seattle to either activate Cameron Morrah on Saturday or sign Joe Nalbone from the practice squad. Robert Gallery will start at left guard, returning after missing three games after groin surgery.

Seattle had gained offensive momentum heading into last week's bye. After scoring 37 points the first 14 quarters of the season, the Seahawks totaled 57 in the past six periods. Now it's up to Whitehurst to maintain that momentum. It's a chance he's prepared for after working with the first-unit offense all week.

"We've had a pretty good week," Whitehurst said Thursday. "We'll see what happens with who's under center, but I'm confident that if my number's called, I can perform."

Carroll has repeatedly expressed confidence in Whitehurst both after his impressive relief appearance in Seattle's comeback victory at the New York Giants on Oct. 9, and again this week.

Seattle acquired Whitehurst with the hope he might progress into a starter. He spent last season backing up Matt Hasselbeck and then at training camp watched as Jackson was signed and transplanted on top of him on the depth chart

This is Whitehurst's chance. It's an opportunity that opened up because of injury, but it is an opportunity. So how did Whitehurst respond in practice?

"This week he just took it over," Carroll said. "He just assumed that this was his job. It gave a lot of people a good feeling. The players, they don't feel like anything is missing right now. We'd like to have Tarvaris available, but Charlie just took over."

So how well would Whitehurst have to play to force the Seahawks to reconsider their depth chart? Would 300 yards passing and a couple of touchdowns impact the coach's thinking on who should be the starter?

"Sure it would," Carroll said. "But if you're looking for me to say what I'm going to do if something happens I would never even go there. We're just going to wait and see what happens."

Whitehurst started two games last season because Hasselbeck was hurt. The Seahawks were overwhelmed in the first one, losing 41-7 to the Giants. Then in Week 17, Whitehurst led one touchdown drive and managed the Seahawks to a 16-6 victory over the Rams to earn a postseason spot.

That was a different team and another season, though. Hasselbeck was the starter with 10 years of equity in Seattle's pocket, and Whitehurst was in his first season in Seattle.

"He's way more in command than he was a year ago," Carroll said. "He just seems more assured and just stronger at the position."

When training camp opened this year, the expectation was Whitehurst would compete for the starting job. He never got the chance, which means this is as good an opportunity as he may get this season.

Note

• Cleveland listed six players as questionable, including starting cornerback Joe Haden (knee) and leading rusher Peyton Hillis (hamstring), who did not practice this week. OL Tony Pashos (ankle), OL Artis Hicks (back), DB Ray Ventrone (hamstring) and DB Buster Skrine (hip) are also questionable, which means a 50-50 chance of playing. LB Scott Fujita (concussion) is out.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

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