By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
RENTON — In the third game of his career as a Seattle Seahawks running back, T.J. Duckett proved that he’s more than just a short-yardage guy.
But the St. Louis game notwithstanding, Duckett’s role with the team probably won’t include too many more 19-carry games.
The 254-pound halfback is getting paid to get the tough yards, and so far he has done just that.
Through four weeks, Duckett is one of just eight NFL running backs who are perfect on three or more chances on third-and-1.
“I definitely take pride in it, for sure,” Duckett said. “But it comes down to the whole entire offense, starting with the line. They take pride in it; we all take pride in it.”
The Seahawks struggled in short-yardage situations last season, so Duckett’s early success comes as a welcome boost.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to the coaches for putting us in good situations, to the O-line for getting the job done, and especially to Duckett for the way the guy runs,” running back Maurice Morris said. “He’s a tough, big, physical guy.”
A sprained knee that Morris suffered in the season opener helped open the door for some extended playing time the past two weeks. Duckett has worked as the top backup to Julius Jones, and he broke out with 79 rushing yards in the win over the Rams 13 days ago.
While Duckett will probably go back to being primarily used in short-yardage situations when Morris returns, the veteran hopes he has proven himself as a jack-of-all-trades.
“I would like to look at myself as more than just a short-yardage, goal-line back, even though that’s what I’ve done a lot of,” Duckett said. “You just want to go out and try to make plays, to be a complete, all-around back. That’s what I want to be described as, not just a short-yardage, goal-line back.”
Branch to start: Coach Mike Holmgren said that Deion Branch will start Sunday but added that the wide receiver will probably see limited snaps. “He says he’s feeling good,” Holmgren said. “It’s just, once the game starts, how many snaps he plays. We’ll have to see how that goes.”
Branch is coming back from February knee surgery and has not played yet this season. He has been practicing for about a month but has yet to suit up for a game.
Earlier this week, Branch said he was “feeling good. I’m ready to go.”
Keary Colbert or Billy McMullen will start at the other receiver position, while Bobby Engram should see his first action of the season as the slot receiver. Engram has been out since suffering a cracked shoulder bone in the preseason.
Two players not expected to play Sunday are wide receiver Koren Robinson and running back Maurice Morris, neither of whom practiced Friday because of minor knee injuries. The team is being careful with both players, meaning it’s more likely Robinson and Morris will return to the field next week.
Of Robinson’s injury, Holmgren said: “In my haste to push him out there, and our need to push him out there, we might make a minor injury a major injury. And I don’t want to do that. Now that our receiver situation is better, I can afford to do this this way, to rest him and let him heal up.”
Both Morris and Robinson are listed as questionable on the injury report.
Holmgren said that both Branch and Engram showed him enough this week to warrant their first playing time of the season.
“They had a good week,” Holmgren said Friday. “Now, how much they can play in the football game, we’ll have to kind of see.”
Big hole: The Seahawks got a bit of a break when the Giants suspended wide receiver Plaxico Burress for two weeks. Sunday’s game is the only one Burress will miss, as his suspension started before last week’s bye. “He’s really good,” Seahawks safety Brian Russell said. “It’s like facing Randy Moss or Terrell Owens: a big test.
“But with Eli Manning and the running game they have, they’re going to play-action. And they have Amani Toomer, who’s very, very, very good, so they still have some weapons.”
The Seahawks have had trouble with big receivers in the past, so the fact that the 6-foot-5 Burress is not playing could turn out to be a break.
“You’re talking about a really outstanding football player,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who suspended Burress for missing a team meeting. “What has been done here before in situations that are similar, whether it be a player that was injured or whatever, is that other people have to play better than they’ve been playing in order to compensate. So that’s what has to happen.”
Domenik Hixon is slated to start in place of Burress.
“Somebody else is going to get opportunities for them,” Seattle’s Russell said, “and we’ve got to stop what he’s doing.”
Bumpus still the man: Holmgren said that rookie Michael Bumpus will continue to return punts, even though Engram has that ability.
“He misjudged one in the last ballgame,” Holmgren said, “But he’s a good catcher, a safe catcher. Engram could also do it, but right now Michael is the guy.”