Renton – Old teammates never forget.
And on Sunday, two former teammates likely will be lined up across from each other when former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson returns to Qwest Field for the first time since being shipped to Detroit in an offseason trade.
Peterson will go against a familiar foe he regularly faced in practice while with Seattle in offensive tackle Ray Willis.
Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu, relegated to the bench after having season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle last week, said he looks forward to the battle on Sunday.
“He used to go against Ray Willis a lot,” Tatupu said. “And we used to always have this saying, don’t get Ray crazy,” Tatupu said. “And so he texted back, just laughing. He was like, ‘I’ll do my best not to.’ But I texted back, ‘I hope you do.’
“I don’t wish him any harm at all,” Tatupu went on. “You see me? I don’t wish this upon nobody. But if it’s going to help us win, I would definitely want it. But it is going to be different seeing him over there. Someone who has done so much for myself and Leroy (Hill) and so many guys here just as far as the way he approached the game and helping us become the players we are.”
A 10-year veteran, Peterson spent three seasons in Seattle, becoming a fan favorite and earning Pro Bowl trips all three seasons he was with the Seahawks. He joined Tatupu and Hill to give the Seahawks one of the most talented linebacker trios in the league.
But that also led to his departure in early March, when the Seahawks, with too much money tied up in the position, chose to keep the younger Hill, signing him to a six-year, $38 million deal during the offseason, and part ways with Peterson.
The Seahawks traded Peterson to Detroit for defensive tackle Cory Redding and a fifth-round draft pick. Then with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft Seattle selected a linebacker with a similar skill set in rookie Aaron Curry.
Peterson, a native of the Washington, D.C., area, has ties to Detroit. He starred as a linebacker at nearby Michigan State. He’s attempting to help the Lions get things turned around in the Motor City, serving as a mentor for some of the team’s younger players.
“I think that comes natural with a couple of the older vets and myself right now,” Peterson said during a conference call this week. “It’s just showing everybody how to work and how to go about being a professional. And right now we’re taking those steps, and now it’s all about building a swagger to try to get some more wins and stuff going on.”
Peterson did help the Lions break a 19-game losing streak this season with a win over the Washington Redskins at home in Week 3.
“At least we don’t have to worry about going 0-16 again,” joked Peterson.
However, the 31-year-old veteran has had some struggles with the transition to his new team, according to new head coach Jim Schwartz.
“There was a little bit of an adjustment period for Julian,” Schwartz said. “He didn’t play very well early in the season, but he’s really come on as of late. … We’re starting to see his best now. He fits what we want to do, he’s multidimensional, he’s got great size, and he’s just great to have around and be on the practice field with.”
Peterson is fourth on the team in tackles with 30, has forced two fumbles and leads the team with 3.5 sacks – all coming in the last three games. He has 49.5 sacks on his career, putting him among the top 30 active leaders in sacks.
Peterson earned half of those sacks (24.5) while in a Seahawks uniform, often pointing to the back of his jersey with his thumbs to let people know who was responsible for the takedown. But with Peterson now in Detroit, Seattle head coach Jim Mora doesn’t want to see that celebration on Sunday.
“I think that right now Julian is thinking about doing this,” said Mora during his Wednesday press conference, using his thumbs to point to the back of his shirt. “And our objective is to not let him do this (pointing again to his back).”
But more than anything, Peterson changed the paradigm at the linebacker position. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds with the speed of a defensive back, the rangy Peterson was a linebacker who could cover. While with San Francisco, Peterson played defensive line, linebacker and defensive back all in one game.
And he’s someone Curry emulated during his college career. Curry wears No. 59 partly to honor Peterson. The two met and talked during Curry’s pre-draft visit to Detroit in April, and Curry looks forward to watching Peterson.
“I’ve always admired Julian as a player,” Curry said. “And after getting to meet him at Detroit, I really admired him as a human being and as a man. And so I just can’t wait to really see him in action.
“He allowed you to be a linebacker and be tall and lanky. He changed it to where us tall guys with long arms and good feet could play outside linebacker. And so he’s one of those guys who you model your game after.”
Tatupu said Peterson is someone Curry can learn from and try to emulate in his pursuit to become one of the top linebackers at his position.
“I think he’s got very similar tools,” Tatupu said. “I know JP (Peterson) is a little longer as far as arm length and maybe a little taller. But speed and weight – Curry’s maybe got five to 10 pounds on him – but they’re two of the more explosive guys I’ve ever seen.”
After going through Seattle’s 4-12 season last year and watching his former team struggle through a 1-6 campaign so far this season, Peterson said he sees a lot of similarities in Seattle and Detroit.
“Pretty much they’re doing the same we’re doing,” he said. “They’re just playing inconsistent. They’ve had times where they’ve played great, and then times where they don’t look the same. And pretty much we’re on the same type pace, too. So all it’s going to come down to is who is going to be more consistent.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437