This time when Max Unger gets in full uniform he’s actually going to get to use it.
The two-time Pro Bowl center — the anchor to the Seahawks’ offense line that his quarterback calls “phenomenal” — will start on Sunday when Seattle (5-3) hosts the New York Giants (3-5). Unger has been out since he sprained his foot Oct. 6 late in the victory at Washington. Thursday was his first full day of practice.
“It’s been a long road back,” he said.
It got excruciating last weekend.
Down to fourth-string center Patrick Lewis because backup and Bellevue High School grad Stephen Schilling was also out with a knee injury and Lemuel Jeanpierre had been released months ago on an injury settlement, the Seahawks had Unger dress — to stand on the sidelines. Seattle had so many injured players its limit of seven inactive guys wasn’t enough. Injured players such as Unger were “active” in name only, in full pads but too hurt to play.
So for the first time in his football life Unger was all dressed up for a game, with no place to go off the sideline.
“Oh, man that was tough,” he said Friday after he completed his second consecutive day of practice. “I’ve never done that one. Yeah, try to avoid that one. I’ve never suited up as the third-string, emergency backup. Who has a third-string center?
“It’s just frustrating knowing what the play is, and not having any outcome on the play.
“It’s nice to be back. I haven’t played football in a while.”
Coach Pete Carroll says left tackle Russell Okung will also be back starting against the Giants. Okung missed last weekend’s win over Oakland with a calf strain.
“That’s obviously very positive for us,” Carroll said of gaining 40 percent of his offensive line back in one day.
The only starting lineman not expected to play Sunday is James Carpenter. The left guard hasn’t practiced since he sprained his ankle in the Raiders game last Sunday. He is listed as doubtful. Alvin Bailey, who played tackle for Okung last weekend, practiced this week at left guard and is poised to start there against the Giants.
The Seahawks seem to be in full preservation mode with strong safety Kam Chancellor. Carroll made it sound as if Chancellor, listed as questionable, will miss his second consecutive game with a strained groin on top of bone spurs he has in his ankles. Chancellor previously hadn’t missed a game since 2011.
“He’s going to have to talk us into it at this point,” Carroll said of Chancellor playing Sunday. “We have to make sure to take care of him for the long haul.”
That means fourth-year veteran Jeron Johnson from Boise State is likely to make his first career start, in his 39th career game with the Seahawks. Johnson got back this week from a concussion that kept him out of the Oakland game.
Carroll said Johnson “is best prepared” and that the team expects him to play well against New York. DeShawn Shead, also a cornerback, started last week for Chancellor at safety and played the entire game.
Nickel back Marcus Burley, great filling in over the seven games Jeremy Lane has missed because of a groin injury, has a new strained hamstring. Burley is listed as questionable.
The Seahawks are likely to make a roster move before Saturday afternoon to activate Lane from the injured-reserve-with-a-designation-to-return list so he can play nickel on Sunday.
“He’s ready to go,” Carroll said of Lane.
Running back Marshawn Lynch and wide receiver Doug Baldwin are good to go for the Giants game. Each starter missed practice time this week for calf and groin injuries, respectively.
Byron Maxwell is questionable to play. Carroll said his starting cornerback will be a game-time decision Sunday. He hasn’t played since he strained his calf Oct. 12 during the loss to Dallas. Second-year man Tharold Simon would make his fourth consecutive and fourth career start on Sunday if Maxwell is out again.
How important is it for Wilson and the Seahawks to have Unger back? Last weekend was the seventh game in Wilson’s three-season NFL career in which he didn’t have Unger as his center. The Seahawks are 4-3 in those games.
With Unger snapping to him and making the protection calls, Wilson is 33-5.
Asked if he felt 100-percent healthy now, or at least close to normal, Unger looked up from his locker and said: “Yeah, that’s a pretty relative term.
“You know, normal this time of year is a little bit rough, as you see. Just part of the game. You roll with it, get lots of treatment and play as best you can.”
Carroll mentioned this week how without Unger, Wilson has taken on more of the pass-blocking calls on the line of scrimmage. With the myriad looks and feints an NFL defense gives immediately before most snaps, that’s a lot of back and forth for Wilson to communicate with his linemen — and time away from his other, usually primary task of deciphering coverages and passing-game reads.
Last weekend against Oakland, Wilson had his sixth career game of completing less than 50 percent of his throws.
Now, with Wilson able to leave most of the protection calls to the trusted Unger again, Wilson can go back to more reading of coverages and the back half of defenses.
“Well, to have a Pro Bowl center in there, Max Unger, he makes a difference,” Wilson said, “He’s a great football player — one of the best centers in the National Football League. He does a great job, he communicates extremely well, and he’s phenomenal.
“It’s huge that the quarterback and the center see the same thing. Max and I definitely have that relationship.”
Following the afternoon practice outdoors, Carroll and Wilson received awards from the Pro Football Writers’ Association for their cooperation with the league’s media across the country. News Tribune columnist Dave Boling presented Carroll with his PFWA award. … Carroll said reserve defensive tackle Jordan Hill is back from his sprained ankle and should play Sunday. … Linebacker Malcolm Smith (groin) is listed as doubtful. The team is hoping he will make it back to play next weekend at Kansas City.