Seahawks turn to a hunter and loan officer for defensive help

Updated: January 3, 2007, 5:04 AM ET
Associated Press

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Not long ago, Pete Hunter was working in Dallas-area mortgage office. John Howell was guiding hunts for elk and other game in the Great Plains. Rich Gardner was working out four times a week at a gym in Nashville.

Then the phone rang for each of them.

Now Hunter, Howell and Gardner will suit up for Seattle in Saturday's NFC wild card playoff game between the Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

All three signed with the Seahawks in the last week, since starting cornerbacks Marcus Trufant (high ankle sprain) and Kelly Herndon (broken ankle) both got hurt. Then Tuesday, backup defensive back Jimmy Williams joined Herndon on the injured reserve list with a knee injury sustained in Sunday's win at Tampa Bay in the regular season finale.

Just more problems for a Seattle pass defense that has given up big plays throughout this season.

"It's really a tough situation," Seahawks defensive coordinator John Marshall said. "We're going to have to come with a decision on who's going to be where."

Marshall said that decision is changing each day, as the coaches assess how well Hunter, Gardner and Howell are learning the defense's calls.

"Hey, that's what we get paid the big bucks for. Yeah, right," Marshall said, smiling.

The coach fully expects Dallas to target Seattle's patchwork defense.

"Yeah, they are going to -- you would assume they are going to -- test the secondary and see what they can do with it," Marshall said.

One of the few healthy defensive backs, Michael Boulware, had been benched for two months for giving up big plays. Now he's playing where Jordan Babineaux used to be, at safety. Babineaux is starting at cornerback, for Herndon.

Now this: Pulling in a hunter, mortgage broker and gym rat. All had been out of football for this entire season. They're back -- just in time for Dallas receivers Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn and the Cowboys' Pro Bowl quarterback, Tony Romo.

Gardner is the new guy Dallas is likely to see most.

The former Tennessee Titan, signed Dec. 27, last played in a game on Dec. 24, 2005. Tennessee released him in September. The 2004 third-round pick from Penn State said he wasn't falling back on his economics degree from Penn State while waiting for four months for an NFL team to sign him.

"I knew I would get another opportunity. I didn't know when," Gardner said. "Fortunately, the Seahawks called."

Marshall said Gardner is penciled as Seattle's fifth, "nickel" back in passing situations -- Babineaux's old job.

"Right now, yes. But don't hold me to that, because we've got to get a feel for Pete Hunter," Marshall said. "And don't forget that Gerard Ross is in that mix, too."

Oh, yeah -- Gerard Ross, a practice squad player whom Seattle has cut and re-signed twice this season.

Hunter, a former Cowboy, lives on a hill overlooking Dallas' practice facility. He talked Tuesday while standing over a silver suitcase and an open, black bag full of gear. Both still had airline luggage tags on them from his Monday night flight.

His tryout was Tuesday morning. He didn't even have a locker following the afternoon practice. Hunter had to borrow a hook from Gardner's end stall to hang his sweat pants.

His last NFL tackle and interception? On Sept. 19, 2004, for the Cowboys, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2002 draft.

Marshall said Hunter impressed the Seahawks with his conditioning and lateral movement during his tryout Tuesday morning.

Sunday, Hunter was home watching NFL games on TV. The Seahawks at the Buccaneers, perhaps?

"The Cowboys," said Hunter, who was studying to become a U.S. immigration enforcement agent before returning to the NFL. "I've still got a lot of friends on that team."

Hunter said he remains tight with Keith Davis, Andre Gurode and Roy Williams on the Cowboys.

"It's going to be crazy playing against my friends," he said.

Hunter is hoping it's not crazy to think the government will push back his test to become a Border Patrol agent because of his new gig.

"I was looking forward to taking the test on the 19th," Hunter said. "Yeah, I'm going to try to postpone ... I'm pretty sure (they'll) understand."

The Seahawks value Howell for his special teams versatility. He played in 10 games for Seattle before ending last season on injured reserve.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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