By Scott M. Johnson
KIRKLAND – The Seattle Seahawks will line up against the greatest passer in University of Pittsburgh history this weekend.
No, Dan Marino isn’t coming out of retirement to play for the rival Buffalo Bills. Rather, Buffalo will go into Sunday’s game with somebody named Alex Van Pelt at quarterback.
Although the six-year NFL veteran broke many of Marino’s records at Pitt, he’s not exactly a household name.
That doesn’t mean the Seahawks have never heard of him, however.
“Don’t underestimate this guy,” said Seahawks defensive tackle Chad Eaton, who was a member of a New England defense that faced Van Pelt in 1997. “Our whole thing when we played Buffalo was, ‘Don’t hurt Rob Johnson.’ That’s how much respect we have for (Van Pelt).”
Johnson suffered a broken clavicle Sunday and is expecting to miss four weeks, meaning Van Pelt will be the Bills’ quarterback of the immediate future.
This week marks Van Pelt’s first start since 1997, when he started three games after taking the job from Todd Collins at midseason. He entered this 2001 season having thrown just five passes during the prior three years.
But Van Pelt has shown he can play. He had his best game in Week 3 of this season, when he came on for an injured Johnson during the first quarter of a game against the New York Jets and completed 23 of 41 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort.
“We know that he can win games for us,” Bills guard Ruben Brown said. “He has a lot of skills. The most important thing is, he’s definitely a coach out there on the field.”
Van Pelt, 31, was the Bills’ third-string quarterback at the end of last season, but moved up to No. 2 when Buffalo released Doug Flutie. New coach Gregg Williams resisted the urge to sign another backup after being impressed Van Pelt at summer workouts.
“He’s got a good command of what we do, and the opportunities he has had through the preseason and the regular season, he’s done very well,” Williams said. “Our guys are comfortable with Alex playing quarterback in this system.”
Granted, Seattle’s week of preparation won’t be like getting ready for Flutie. But the Seahawks are vowing not to take Van Pelt lightly.
“He’s played in the fourth quarter twice, and he’s played 3 1/2quarters in the (game films) we have on him. So we have a good indicator of how he is,” Seattle defensive coordinator Steve Sidwell said. “He’s a very experienced quarterback who will run their offense very well.”
Kelly placed on injured reserve: Maurice Kelly, who started the past two games at free safety while Marcus Robertson sat out with a hamstring injury, will miss the remainder of the season after being placed on injured reserve.
Kelly had surgery to repair a joint in his foot after dislocating three toes in Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders.
“He did a great job when he was in there,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. “That’s too bad anytime a guy has to go on IR, particularly when he’s a young kid and playing his guts out.”
Robertson practiced Wednesday, and Holmgren said that he expects him to be back in the lineup this week. But just in case, the Seahawks signed free agent Kerry Joseph as insurance.
Joseph spent the past four seasons with the Seahawks, but was not re-signed following a 2000 season that saw him start the final 10 games.
“I’ve just been working out, staying in shape, and praying that I’d get back in the game,” Joseph said of the past 10 months. “There were a lot of teams that had interest, but the timing wasn’t right. I felt like I had a chance to get back in, so I kept the faith and kept working hard.”
Perfect specimen: No member of the Seahawks’ offensive line had more to do with Sunday’s 31-24 win over Oakland than left tackle Walter Jones.
In fact, Holmgren said Jones was as close to perfection as it gets.
“Walter Jones played the best game of any lineman since I’ve been here,” Holmgren said. “I can be real picky, but he almost played a perfect game.”
Another honor for Alexander: Running back Shaun Alexander was named the AFC offensive player of the week Wednesday.
Alexander ran for a franchise record 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 win over the Raiders on Sunday.