Championship Week: Holmgren Meets the Press

At his Wednesday press conference, Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren discussed several subjects – of course, the primary topic at hand was the recent arrest of starting right tackle Sean Locklear.

“I met with Sean yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon and had a good sitdown with him,” Holmgren said about his meeting with the second-year right tackle from North Carolina State. “He was very sorry and apologized to me. This morning he apologized to his teammates.

“He did not want anything like this to be a distraction. He was sorry, clearly. He really does realize that the players represent the community. He is one of the guys that I think would like to be a role model in this community. He realizes that this has been a negative thing in what should be a feel good week for us. As he explained to me exactly what happened, I believe I understand what happened. At that point I have made the decision that he will play in the football game.”

Locklear has a hearing planned for the middle of February and Holmgren noted that the team will take action if a decision warrants it.

In football news, Holmgren is ultra-focused on the Carolina Panthers and how the Seahawks – playing in only their second conference championship game in the history of the franchise – plan to attack and defeat a team as hot as any at this point and time.

“They are a good football team,” Holmgren admitted. “Everyone knows that. They wouldn’t be where they are if they weren’t. When we look at how we match up against any team, I think there are times we might have a little more strength in the match up with a certain team more than another team and they look at it the same way.

“As I look at Carolina, in my opinion, they don’t have many weaknesses. They are good. I think they are well coached.”

Panthers head coach John Fox will be standing across the field from Holmgren this Sunday and it will be a match-up of two highly respected coaches who are considered geniuses on offense (Holmgren) and on defense (Fox).

“Defensively, they are very sound,” Holmgren observed. “They run their schemes. They are very disciplined in their schemes and they have some very special players on defense that create plays for you.”

Some of those playmakers on defense include former Seahawk Ken Lucas on the corner, DE Julius Peppers, SS Marlon McCree and LB Will Witherspoon. Peppers finished the regular season with 10.5 sacks, McCree led the team with 90 tackles and Lucas has been a ball-hawk all season posting six interceptions during the season and one in each of the Panthers’ two playoff games.

“On offense, much has been said about Steve Smith and it should be,” Holmgren said. “He is a special player, but he is not only good player they have. As much as people would say, you just have to handle Steve Smith, you have to be careful against any team like that because they have other athletes that can get you pretty good.

“With the numbers he has put up, I think if you don’t approach it at the start that way, you’re making a huge mistake. He catches 14 balls, 12 balls, 13 balls, that’s a lot of passes in a game and then touchdowns, and he returns punts for them. He does a lot of stuff. Clearly, they want him to be a big part of what they do.”

Even thought he hasn’t started a game this year, Nick Goings is no slouch when it comes to running the football. He only rushed for 137 yards on 33 carries this season, but last season, when the Panthers suffered injuries to their top four running backs, Goings started the final seven games of 2004 and put up impressive numbers in six wins. Whenever he’s rushed for over 100 yards, the Panthers have won.

The reason Goings gets the start this weekend is because starting running back DeShaun Foster broke a bone in his foot last week against Chicago and he will miss the rest of the post season.

“It's a little like us, actually, without having Shaun Alexander, without wouldn't be that dramatic,” Holmgren said. “He's their starting back. DeShaun Foster is a very explosive guy. His style of running, of starting here and popping there. And he has great speed.

“(Goings), we assume, is a different style of runner, pretty effective and a tough guy. But if the play is designed over there, that's pretty much where he's going to go. He may make one guy miss, but that's where he's going to go. DeShaun, he was a little more unpredictable that way. I don't imagine that they would change dramatically on the type of plays they would call. (Fox) likes to run the ball over the years. I don't think they are going to change too much that way.”

Back to Smith, Holmgren and the defensive coordinator tandem of John Marshall and Ray Rhodes have some experience handling a player with Smith’s talents, now that they’ve defensed Washington’s Santana Moss twice this season.

“I think if there is a difference it is how perhaps the teams use both athletes,” Holmgren said. “Moss, while he would catch intermediate balls and stuff like that, he was going downtown a lot. With Steve, they use him maybe even more. He even gets more touches and it is by design it appears. In a lot of different ways. They move him around from position to position.

“Athletically, they are both very, very fast. Their size is about the same. Without knowing them really well, being around them and seeing them, Steve Smith for his size is very, very strong. Physically, a strong guy. Has strong hands. He made a play against the Bears, it is kind of indicative of the type of play he can make when both guys came down near the end zone and he had and he took it. He can make that type of play. But, you have to think about them the same way, I believe. I think as a defensive team you better think about them the same way.”

In a classic matchup of the “irresistible force” meeting the “immovable object”, the Hawks and Panthers clash this Sunday will be a game between a team (Seattle) undefeated at home sporting a 9-0 record versus a team with an 8-2 record on the road, including two road playoff wins.

“I'm envious,” Holmgren said with a smile. “I heard something this morning about Pittsburgh's road record. I admire that. It's very difficult to win on the road and teams that have figured out how to do that on a consistent basis usually will be very good and be in the playoffs. It's tough.”

The Seahawks have their own concerns this week. Alexander is recovering from a concussion suffered in the first quarter against the Redskins last week. Holmgren said he expects his star running back to be available and ready to play and said a few others are touch and go at this point.

“Rocky (Bernard), Bobby (Engram) and Darrell will not practice (Wednesday),” Holmgren said. “Shaun (Alexander) is full-go. He passed some tests we gave him yesterday. He participated in our walk-through this morning and he is going to be fine. Rocky, Bobby and Darrell are real sore. They are not going to practice today. I hope I get them to practice a little bit tomorrow. We will take day-to-day with those three.”

One player needed on the field on Saturday will be Jackson, who left the game on Saturday briefly with an injured lower back. He returned to the game and posted outstanding numbers, catching nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Holmgren said that even though Jackson missed nine games during the season with an injured knee, the chemistry between the seventh-year receiver and QB Matt Hasselbeck is what allowed such a big day in one of the biggest games in the franchise’s history.

“Since Matt’s been starting, Darrell’s been our No. 1 receiver,” Holmgren noted. “But Darrell hasn’t really practiced (during his injury). That’s about the only practice they’ve had together in about 10 weeks. But they have been together, they talk to each other a lot, they talk to each other in practice. Just to make sure, if there’s any rust at all, let’s remember how to do this. But both of them are trying real hard.

“We need Darrell. But I think the real answer is that Matt’s thrown a lot of passes to Darrell, in practice and during the season, in the last four years. That’s what’s allowed us to not skip a beat.”

Punt returns is another area of concern for the Seahawks head man. CB Jimmy Williams has been handling the chores most of the season, but his performance against the Redskins left a lot to be desired. He fumbled three punts, recovered two of them, but lost one that ended with a Redskins field goal.

This week the Seahawks have been trying out different players and it appears that they have decided to make a change.

“The first guy we're going to give a crack at doing this is Peter Warrick,” Holmgren said. “I talked to him today and I said 'Look, I know what kind of a position I'm putting you in. Because you're going to go out there and the whole world is going to be watching and they're going to be mad at you and they're going to be mad at me if things go bad. But that's the way it's going to go. How do you feel about that?' And Peter does not lack confidence now. He was very appreciative and very happy. We're going to give him a crack at doing this.”

Warrick began the season as a return man, but after several questionable decisions he was removed from returning punts and Williams took over.

Finally, Holmgren addressed how grateful he is that his team could get a win for the people of Seattle, especially the team’s long-suffering fanbase.

“You'd have to talk to someone who has lived in Seattle a lot longer than I have but I know it's … it's fun is all I can say,” Holmgren said. “It's the people seem to be very, very excited. If I've heard it once I've heard it 100 times: I've been a Seahawks fan since the inception of the team. And that's fun. It's really exciting.

“I've said before one of the joys of being able to take a team all the way, whether it was Green Bay or in San Francisco, was the joy it gave the community. As part of this organization and to hear how important in any number of ways the team is to people, football fans, non-football fans, there's just a, it's good. It's one of the gratifying things about my job.”

Seahawk fans are hoping that Holmgren will still be working at his job for at least a few more weeks as the team makes plans to head to the Motor City for a game against the AFC champion in Super Bowl XL.

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Feel free to contact him at Top Stories