KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Just as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is getting back to relatively full health, the traffic cop of the Seahawks' surging defense is hurting.
Hard-hitting free safety Brian Russell missed another day of practice on Friday and is questionable to start on Sunday when the NFC West champions (9-4) play at Carolina (5-8).
Russell, one of three free-agent acquisitions who have greatly improved the defense, watched the short practice before the team flew east while wearing an electric stimulation pack attached to his torso. If he can't play, reserve defensive back Jordan Babineaux would likely make his first start of the season alongside strong safety Deon Grant.
When asked whether Russell was OK, coach Mike Holmgren said, "I think so.
"That's going to be a Sunday decision. He has a little pull in his abdomen. I think we are being a little conservative with him, but he's very important to us."
Russell arrived with Grant in the offseason to replace the since-departed Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin as starting safeties, after Seattle repeatedly allowed huge plays down the middle of the field last season.
With Russell and Grant as the last line of defense, the Seahawks have allowed just 10 touchdown passes in 13 games, tied for fewest in the league. That and Patrick Kerney's 10 sacks in the last five weeks are a large reason why Seattle has allowed only 228 points, second-fewest in the NFC behind Tampa Bay (215), and has won five consecutive games.
Holmgren said Russell isn't sure when or how he hurt the muscle, but that the former member of the Cleveland Browns (2005-06) and Minnesota Vikings (2001-04) has a history of abdomen strains.
He has played in every game this season. The Seahawks want him again Sunday because they are trying to rally past Green Bay (11-2) for the No. 2 seed in the conference, which brings a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Holmgren said his team responded well this week in preparations for the struggling Panthers, following Seattle's blowout of Arizona last weekend that brought a fourth consecutive division title.
"I talked to them about it. There is a tendency -- it's human nature -- to take a deep breath, especially since we sort of resurrected ourselves just a little bit at the halfway point," Holmgren said. "That's OK to take that deep breath. But now that's over. We're back to work."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press