Notebook: Hutch Isn't Alone

The hype this weekend most certainly is about Steve Hutchinson returning to Seattle, but Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson got his first pro experience with the Vikings and is coping with a less-than-ideal situation in Seattle while Vikings punter Chris Kluwe also got his start in Seattle. See what they had to say and what was said about them.

You can go home again, but it doesn't always yeild a successful story. Just ask Nate Burleson, who returned to his native Seattle and was all too happy to accept the Seahawks' revenge contract offer to him after the Vikings lured away former Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson with a controversial contract in March.

The whole "poison pill" contract controversy played itself out on a very public NFL stage this spring when the Vikings put a clause in their offer to Hutchinson that stipulated he had to be the highest paid offensive lineman on his team in terms of average annual salary or his entire contract would be guaranteed. That meant Seattle would have had to guarantee him $49 million if they chose to match Minnesota's offer because left tackle Walter Jones would have been making more than Hutchinson.

"As far as the structure of any contract like that, I don't think clubs should do that. We're competing like crazy against one another. To me it's a little bit against the spirit of the rule," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said Monday. "There are loopholes, and you get some smart guys figuring out how to do things, and you can always find a little way to do something, but to me it's against the spirit of the rule.

"I know on the field there are unwritten rules that the players use, that we as coaches use with one another. That's what I see that as. I would hope that it wouldn't happen again to anybody – not just us, but anybody. I don't think it's part of the deal. … It surprised me. The whole thing surprised a lot of people throughout the NFL, not just in our building. … Obviously, we didn't want to lose Steve. If we'd known then what we know now, we certainly would have done it a different way."

However, the Seahawks responded with a $49 million offer (in theory) to former Vikings wide receiver Nate Burleson that is actually more of a four-year contract worth about $14.5 million.

Hutchinson, because of his Pro Bowl status and because he was the most public case to exploit the "poison pill" loopholes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, will garner the headlines and talk-show banter leading up to Sunday's game.

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Holmgren both said it's hard to be angry with Hutchinson because he is a quality person. He's also one of the best guards in the NFL.

"One, physically he's tough, and I think offensive linemen, as a rule, they don't get the credit they deserve and they do receive some of the blame they don't deserve, so they have to be kind of mentally tough," Holmgren said. "But the physical part of it is something that is always hurting them, but they have to battle through that, the good ones I've been around, and Steve was very much that way. What he brings to the table is if a team is kind of teeing off and getting you back on your heels, he could get his own guys going again. That's what I thought was one of his strengths. He could get in the huddle and it would be like the quarterback talking almost and people would listen. (He displayed) a great leadership that way. He wasn't a real talker off the field, but I think during the football games he displayed great leadership that way."

Meanwhile, the Vikings' defenders know Burleson will be looking to put his stamp on the game as well.

"I know Nate is going to be geared up and looking forward to playing his old team," safety Darren Sharper said. "We'll just try to keep him from catching any balls. No real messages for him. He knows not to come across the middle, so I don't think he'll be wandering in that area of the field too much."

Actually, Burleson hasn't been wandering with the ball too often yet this season. He has only seven catches in five games, tied for fifth place among Seattle's offensive players to date.

Still, Hasselbeck says Burleson has been a valuable addition.

"I think if someone evaluates the situation by his statistics, then that's really unfair. He's meant a lot to our team, he really has," the quarterback said. "He's brought a level of speed and explosiveness to our team that we didn't have last year. He's really opened some things up for other guys and he's been a great teammate. … Nate has been very unselfish, been a great addition to our team, and I feel really good about him. I'm looking at this thing long-term."

Holmgren said he has talked with Burleson about being patient and that Burleson has maintained a team-first attitude.

"In a perfect world, I don't want to use (four wide receivers) as much as we used it before," Holmgren said. "I'm going to use it, but we've got to be able to run the ball to be most successful, and to do that you need your tight end in the game, and a lot of the times you need both backs in the game. That takes you out of the four-wide receiver package. You have a problem. You have these receivers now, who's going to play the most, and right now (Darrell) Jackson and (Deion) Branch will start for us, (D.J.) Hackett and (Nate) Burleson will play in our other packages."

"It is what it is right now," Holmgren added. "We have more guys then we have footballs and can play at any particular time. … As soon as (Branch) came on board and was up to speed and knows the stuff, you have to figure out a way to get him on the field. Now to Nate's credit, he's handling it. It's not really a demotion. The other guy has to be on the field. He's an outstanding player, and Nate is. Nate is handling it very well. He's being very professional with this. Before the season's over, he will make big plays for us, and he will make his place. I can't go four wide-receivers all the time. It's not the best thing for our offense."

Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot, a well-known trash talker, said he wasn't going to "throw stones" at Burleson in challenging him on Sunday because the receiver is a quite person and Smoot prefers to save his banter for those who can dish it out as well. Still, Smoot believes Burleson will come ready to play.

"Nate's going to be happy to play his old team. Players have vendettas when they play their old teams, so I know he's going to want to prove his point and we're going out there to prove we want to be tops in the NFL, so we can't let Nate win," Smoot said.

However, whether it is Burleson, Hutchinson or even punter Chris Kluwe, who is returning to Seattle after being released by the Seahawks at the end of training camp last year, Vikings coach Brad Childress cautioned that players shouldn't get too emotional to show up their former teams.

"I think probably the biggest thing over the course of time is that you have to make sure they don't take on a significance in trying to do something that is not within the frame of things," Childress said. "(Hutchinson) obviously will have inside information on that defensive front as they do on him. Whether it's Nate or whether it's Steve, you have to make sure you don't get emotionally involved to the extent where you're out of body. You've seen guys get amped up for those kind of rivalries and sometimes in hindsight they look back and say, ‘Geez, I wish I would have just treated that like another game.' Whether they can do that or not, you encourage them to."

KLUWE'S CASE

Punter Kluwe won't be going out looking to lay a violent hit on a former co-worker. Instead, the punter who was so impressive as a rookie for the Vikings last year after being released by the Seahawks is just looking to get back on track with his average this year.

After averaging 44.1 yards per punt last year, Kluwe's average has fallen to 40.4 yards in 2006.

"Really, the only thing bringing my average down right now is two or three really bad kicks. I've just got to get rid of those, which I think I did last (game) and maybe the week before. I just can't have a 9-yard punt (like he did against a stiff wind in Buffalo). That just really doesn't help the average," Kluwe said.

Kluwe said he doesn't look at the rankings of punters too much, concentrating instead on wins and losses. But he admits that being only five games into the season helps him realize that he can still lift his average with more consistency throughout the final two-thirds of the season.

He can continue that comeback in Seattle, where he became friends with kicker Josh Brown and injured long snapper J.P. Darche. Kluwe said he talked with Brown several times last year and wished him luck leading up to the Super Bowl. He also said he'd probably look to get together for dinner with Brown or other ex-teammates from Seattle, a place he still thinks of fondly.

"It's the first place I went to, so it will always be special," Kluwe said.

STAYING THE COURSE

The Vikings defense doesn't look to be getting complacent with its newfound fifth-place ranking in the league, and defensive coordinator/head motivator Mike Tomlin is finding the words and inspiration each week for his players.

"Every Sunday is an opportunity to prove to yourself that you are what you think you are. You're 60 minutes away from shame, or 60 minutes away from glory. We live week-to-week. Of course we don't dwell on stats. That's something to look back and tell a story after this thing is done," Tomlin said. "We want to do week-to-week what is required for us to help our team win and that's it. Sometimes your reputation precedes you in stadiums when you're playing good football, but you've got to step in stadiums and confirm it, so that's what we're focused on doing."

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