Quarterback Seneca Wallace may fill in at receiver and punt returner, positions decimated by injuries to key players.
RENTON — Seneca Wallace started out as a cornerback in college, and one NFL executive urged him to try his hand at receiver when he entered the NFL in 2003.
So it’s not exactly a shock that Wallace will wear more than one hat in his sixth season in Seattle, and it turns out that description is neither a metaphor nor an exaggeration. He has two helmets for every game, one equipped with a radio to wear if he goes into the game as a quarterback and the other a standard-issue helmet if he’s called on to return punts, catch passes or run the ball.
Baseball has five-tool prospects, the Seahawks have themselves a two-helmet player. In the home-opener against San Francisco on Sunday, the question is just how often Wallace will be called on to run routes, catch passes and possibly even field punts, given Seattle’s lack of depth at wide receiver.
“He could be a starter and play 50 snaps for all we know,” said Mike Nolan, San Francisco coach.
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Necessity just might accomplish what years of training-camp experiments have not. It might infuse a steady diet of Wallace at wide receiver into Seattle’s playbook. Nate Burleson is out for the season, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch aren’t expected back until October, and two of Seattle’s four healthy receivers practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday.
Enter Wallace, the wild card, who practiced at receiver Wednesday, wearing gloves to see how he fit into a new role.
“How we use him will kind of tie in with how the new guys fit in,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “It’s an interesting thing.”
That’s one word for it. Desperate might be another, as the Seahawks consider having Wallace catch passes instead of throw them.
“That’s a very good way to put it,” Holmgren said. “Normally speaking, I don’t really want to do it.”
That’s not a comment on Wallace’s ability. Coming out of high school, Oregon State was planning on Wallace playing cornerback until academic problems kept him from enrolling there. After attending junior college, he became a Heisman Trophy candidate at Iowa State, but former Texans GM Charlie Casserly was critical of Wallace’s reluctance to try out at wide receiver.
Well, if being an NFL quarterback is a test, Wallace passed so well that the Seahawks have signed him to an extension on two different occasions. So he’s a quarterback, first and foremost, and there are only two reasons Holmgren would consider asking him to do more right now.
First of all, third-string quarterback Charlie Frye played adequately during the exhibition season. Secondly, the dearth of receivers with the absences of Branch, Engram, Burleson and Ben Obomanu. Burleson’s injury might even rush Wallace into returning punts, though that won’t be decided until this weekend.
But even now, Holmgren isn’t exactly embracing the idea. He would prefer to keep Wallace safe in a glass case, breaking it open only in case of emergency if Matt Hasselbeck were to be injured.
“It’s still a difficult decision,” Holmgren said.
That difficulty is contrasted by Wallace’s dynamic abilities. He had a 28-yard reception in the NFC Championship Game against Carolina in 2006 and last season he caught an 18-yard pass in San Francisco and a 29-yarder two weeks later against New Orleans.
The rest of Wallace’s receiving résumé is years of speculation about a position that requires more than knowing the route and catching the ball. There’s a technique to it, something players spend years learning and rehearsing.
“It’s a huge, huge challenge to go out there and perform at a high level at wide receiver when you haven’t practiced there in about a year,” Hasselbeck said. “That would be unfair to any wide receiver, never mind a fast quarterback.”
So is it expecting too much to think Wallace will make a contribution in this time of need at wide receiver?
“I wouldn’t say too much,” Hasselbeck said. “We’re expecting a lot, but it’s a lot to ask. We’re putting a lot on his shoulders right now.”
This is a different version of the hurry-up offense from the one Wallace runs as quarterback. When he practiced with receivers Wednesday, it was the first time he’d done so since junior college.
“For the first day, it went pretty well,” Wallace said. “It felt good. It’s different when you’ve been working quarterback all your life and then you go over there and do some drills, but I felt pretty good.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org