Tuesday in Hawkville: Max Unger steps back in for the Seahawks

The Seahawks’ first practice for Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Panthers featured something very significant: The return of center Max Unger after missing the past six games.

A recap of the activities at Virginia Mason Athletic Center for Jan. 6, when the Seahawks held their "Competition Wednesday" practice as they continued to prepare for Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field:

FOCUS ON: MAX UNGER

With Unger out the past six games because of a high ankle sprain, Patrick Lewis and Lemuel Jeanpierre split the starts at center for the Seahawks.

"I was proud of those guys for how they stepped up and the things they were able to do for us," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said after Tuesday's practice.

Bevell used the past tense while discussing the contributions of Lewis and Jeanpierre because Unger is ready to return for Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field.

And his presence will be a boost for the offense because Unger is one of the best centers in the NFL. He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and 2013 and is an alternate this season despite missing 10 games.

"Max is our leader up there," Bevell said. "He does a great job of setting it and just communicating really well with the rest of the guys around him."

For his part in all this, Unger just glad to be healthy and back where he belongs – and the offense needs him.

"It's been a tough year with the injuries, but I've got a good shot to play this week," Unger said before practice. "I did all the meetings, went to everything, tried to kind of stay in the week-to-week. It worked pretty well. Not too much rust. So we'll see."

YOU DON'T SAY

"The Oregon Ducks will win the national championship. They're going to pull it off. I don't play there anymore. I can make as many guarantees as I want."

Max Unger, who played at Oregon, predicting that the Ducks will beat The Ohio State University in the Championship game on Monday night


Unger also has participated in practice the past two weeks, including the two bye-week workouts.

"The bye week was huge," he said. "Not having played for the last six weeks that was big not to be kind of thrown in there (this week)."

Just what have the Seahawks been missing when Unger was missing – the past six games because of the ankle injury and four games at midseason with a foot injury?

"When Max plays, our numbers are a little bit better," coach Pete Carroll said. "It actually statistically shows up. We're running the ball a little better and we (pass) protect a little better. That's his guidance and his experience for the other guys up there. He's an expert at recognizing looks and calls and directing what's going on in there.

"So it just stands to reason that we maximize more so with him there. We'll just be a little more accurate with stuff. It's the kind of experience it just takes time to get. … It's a wonderful dimension for us that helps us just be right more. And that's a really important thing in the game."

INJURY UPDATES: JORDAN HILL TO IR; JERMAINE KEARSE RETURNS

STAT DU JOUR: HARDLY POINTLESS

The Seahawks not only became the first team since the Minnesota Vikings in 1969-71 to lead the NFL in average points allowed for three consecutive seasons, they were the third team in NFL history to do it – also joining the Cleveland Browns, who did it five seasons in a row:

Team (seasons) Avg. points allowed
Browns (1953-57) 13.5, 13.5, 18.2, 14.8, 14.3
Vikings (1969-71) 9.5, 10.2, 9.9
Seahawks (2012-14)

15.3, 14.4, 15.9


There will not be an official injury report until Wednesday, but Carroll covered the situation during his midday session with the media and Seahawks.com's Tony Drovetto has the details.

Hill, who had produced 5.5 sacks as the nose tackle in the nickel line, was placed on injured reserve later in the day. He was sidelined during the bye week practices after spraining a knee in the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams and then injured his other calf during a workout over the weekend.

Demarcus Dobbs, who missed the past three games with an ankle injury, is back and will step in for Hill, Carroll said.

Also back at practice were wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who missed the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams with a hamstring injury; and cornerback Tharold Simon, who missed the Rams game because of a shoulder injury.

ROSTER SHUFFLE: STEVEN TERRELL BACK ON THE 53-MAN ROSTER

With Hill being placed on IR, Terrell was activated off the practice squad to fill his spot on the roster. Terrell had been on the active roster earlier this season.

Also, guard Justin Renfrow was signed to the practice squad and defensive tackle Jimmy Staten was re-signed to the 10-man unit.

OPPONENT WATCH: KELVIN BENJAMIN

In the Week 8 game between the Seahawks and Panthers in Carolina, the rookie wide receiver hauled in a 51-yard pass from Cam Newton despite tight coverage from All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman as part of his four-catch, 94-yard afternoon.

Asked about the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin, Sherman offered, "He's a good player. He's big, strong and he makes the tough catch. He's a fun matchup to go against."

Benjamin finished his rookie season with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. He had four catches for 33 yards in the Panthers' wild-card victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.

SCOT McCLOUGHAN COMING BACK TO THE GAME

McCloughan, the Seahawks' director of college scouting from 2000-05 and later a senior assistant to general manager John Schneider, is reportedly finalizing a deal to become GM of the Washington Redskins.

His departure from the Seahawks and time away from the game was chronicled in a recent feature in ESPN The Magazine profile.

UP NEXT: "TURNOVER THURSDAY"

Yes, it will be Wednesday, but because the divisional playoff game against the Panthers is on Saturday night, the Seahawks will hold their "Turnover Thursday" practice.

Photos from the Seahawks' "Competition Wednesday" practice that took place on a Tuesday ahead of Seattle's Saturday divisional-round playoff game against the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers.

In the past, we've used this practice to focus on the Seahawks' turnover differential and takeaways. But the other side of the equation is giveaways, and this season the Seahawks turned the ball over a club record-low 14 times (seven interceptions and seven lost fumbles) – three fewer than the 2005 team that advanced to the franchise's first Super Bowl; and five fewer than last season's team that won the franchise's first Super Bowl.

"Emphasis. It's totally emphasis," Carroll said. "And that comes with commitment to the value of controlling the ball on offense and taking care of it and getting after it. I've been trying to emphasis this better than anyone in the world for as long as I've been a head coach. I think it's that crucial. It's how many creative ways can you bring the point back to the surface again so these guys will take advantage of the fact that every time you snap the ball it's available. Every snap. So you never quite get it maxed there, but we keep working at it."

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