Hawks' hit man ready to face former team
Teammates called him "X" because he could always be counted on to neutralize, or "X out," the opposing team's running back, quarterback...
Seattle Times staff reporter
KIRKLAND — Teammates called him "X" because he could always be counted on to neutralize, or "X out," the opposing team's running back, quarterback, tight end or the tackles.
They called him "Champ" because Julian Peterson was good for a couple of knockout wallops on an opposing player every season.
"At least once a year I would knock a dude's helmet off," the Seahawks linebacker said. "It was legit play and everything. I would never do anything dirty."
The hit that earned Peterson the "Champ" moniker came at the expense of the New Orleans Saints and a guy who was once in Seahawks training camp, wide receiver Jerome Pathon. Peterson was playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
"He caught a little drag route and he was running pretty good, and I think he broke a couple of tackles," Peterson said. "As soon as he spun off the next guy I was running full speed and just ... "
Peterson clapped his hands for effect. He didn't need to say what happened.
"He got up all dazed and didn't know where he was," Peterson said.
Other Peterson victims from his 49ers days include Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin and New York Giants fullback Jim Finn.
In Seattle, though, Peterson is just J.P. No nicknames, none needed. He's a big part of the Seahawks defense and without question its best player in 2006, someone who's just fine being one of the guys.
It's not the big hits but the team-leading eight sacks that make Peterson stand out — he has a chance to set the team record for a season. Defensive end Michael Sinclair had 16 ½ sacks in 1998.
The sacks have drawn plenty of attention, including that of the 49ers, who know better than any other team what Peterson is capable of after his six seasons there. Peterson has already eclipsed his previous season high of seven sacks set in 2003.
The key has been keeping Peterson in as a rush linebacker or rush defensive end when the Seahawks are in their nickel defense. Peterson is already a mainstay in the base defense as an outside linebacker, where he defends the run and covers some passes.
The versatility is something Peterson displayed with the 49ers, who even lined him up as a defensive back. In San Francisco, Peterson was the main man on defense. Opposing teams looked for him on the blitz. But in Seattle, on a team stocked with talent in the front seven, Peterson is thriving.
In other words, opposing offenses have to double-team someone. And if Peterson is one-on-one against either a tackle, tight end or running back assigned to keep him from getting to the quarterback, Peterson is regularly winning that battle.
"Another key is I've got some good guys in front of me," Peterson said, mentioning Rocky Bernard, Grant Wistrom, Darryl Tapp and Chuck Darby. "We've got some guys who can really go in there and pass rush. You've got guys who can come in there and win their individual battles and it kind of frees up everybody to have their one-on-ones and you can do things of that nature."
Teams just can't be sure if Peterson is coming, nor where he'll line up from play to play. Even when he fakes a blitz, teams shift their offensive line before the snap ever so slightly to his side, leaving the defensive end on the other side a one-on-one situation.
What does it all add up to? The Seahawks lead the NFL in sacks with 34.
"He's fast. He's strong. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he disrupts things," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "And that's kind of the best way to describe our defense when they're rushing the passer."
Jacob Green, who had 16 sacks in 1983 and is one of the most accomplished sack artists in Seahawks history, has been watching Peterson from afar and up close, living in Houston but having been to Seahawks games in Seattle this season.
Green said he sees a little bit of Rufus Porter in Peterson. Porter, a linebacker from 1988 to 1994 who made two Pro Bowls as a special-teams selection, was a teammate of Green's who had similar attributes, strengths and versatility.
Green called Peterson "underrated."
"If he stays healthy, he has an outside chance at the record," Green said. "He has talent, and when you have talent, you can do things."
Peterson has had a major injury before, a torn Achilles tendon that cost him 11 games in 2004 and might have affected his play in 2005. That wasn't the reason the 49ers let him become a free agent.
San Francisco gave him its franchise tag twice in the previous two offseasons, and just couldn't afford to keep Peterson, its salary cap in dire shape. The Seahawks had money to spend when left guard Steve Hutchinson signed with Minnesota, and Peterson got a seven-year, $54 million deal that included an $18.5 million signing bonus.
Fast forward to this week, and Peterson is getting ready to face his old team Sunday in San Francisco.
"He was always a load, playing against him," Holmgren said. "So I'm glad he's on my team now. You don't expect with free agency to get a player of his caliber; it doesn't happen very often."
The 49ers miss Peterson's upbeat personality, but coach Mike Nolan isn't sorry the team let him go because of the financial ramifications of the move.
"It's going to be a little mixed emotions in the beginning," said Peterson, who is still close friends with a number of ex-teammates. "I'm going to talk to them the whole game and they're going to talk to me.
"There's no hard feelings. I'm happy here and I'm ready to kick some 49er butt."
Spoken like a champ.
José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Leaders of the sack|
|Julian Peterson has eight sacks through nine games, a pace that would put him among the Seahawks season leaders. A look at the top marks for Seattle since 1982, when sacks became an official statistic:|
|16 ½||Michael Sinclair||1998|
|14 ½||Jeff Bryant||1984|
|13 ½||Jacob Green||1985|
|13 ½||Michael McCrary||1996|
|12 ½||Jacob Green||1990|
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.