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The doubters have inspired Seahawks' Peterson's comeback

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Maybe it's the shoes, the outlandish, neon green spikes Julian Peterson calls his "gangrenes," that propelled him to three sacks against San Francisco.

"Pretty much designed on my own," the Seahawks' pass rushing menace said proudly this week. "Thought it would be cool to throw on some loud shoes. I know I wouldn't be caught dead wearing them on the street. But with the uniform it looks good."

More likely, it's the chip. The one that was on the three-time Pro Bowl player's shoulder after he ruptured his Achilles' tendon two years ago and some said he was finished.

"The biggest part was proving people wrong," Peterson said, coming off what he called his "perfect" career day against his former team and preparing to lead Seattle's new, aggressive defense into Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"When I first did it, it was like, 'Well, it's over with. Most people don't come back from an Achilles'. Your career is over with. That's your whole thing, using your athletic ability.'

"I was like, 'I'm going to be back."'

Oh, yeah, he's back.

Back down to 3 percent body fat, from a "high" of 5. That astounds teammates who watch him eat junk food like a fiend.

"Yeah, it comes naturally," Peterson said. "Doughnuts and Doritos."

He's back roaming in a 4-3 defensive scheme. He lines up over the center, the guard, the tackle or even covers tight ends and wide receivers 20 yards downfield. It's how he thrived in San Francisco.

He's also back as the one player opposing offenses must plan to stop if they want to beat Peterson's team.

"Yeah, you see offenses point him out in protection, just before the snap," said Lofa Tatupu, Seattle's other Pro Bowl linebacker.

"Just as athletic as anyone out there playing linebacker. And faster than most."

One season after Peterson set a career high with 10 sacks in his debut for the Seahawks, Seattle is getting more bang for its bucks. Peterson has five sacks in four games this season, in which he's earning $18.5 million.

"He gets after the quarterback, flat and simple, whether it's a blitz or we put him down as an end," Tatupu said. "I think all the sacks right now are from the D-end position. It doesn't get much sweeter than that for a linebacker. There are starting D-ends out there that don't have five sacks, that don't have 2 1/2 sacks, either."

John Marshall, coordinator of a defense that has sometimes carried a skittish offense through three wins in four games, said this is exactly what Seattle expected when it signed Peterson.

"We expected a guy who could make plays, and at times make plays that other linebackers can't make. And he's doing it," Marshall said.

"He's immeasurably valuable to us."

He wasn't anymore to the 49ers, who drafted the freakishly athletic linebacker 16th overall out of Michigan State in 2000. He spent six seasons and made two Pro Bowls with them, but was also bitter over contract disputes. San Francisco made him its franchise player in 2004 and again in 2005.

After his second consecutive Pro Bowl, he tore his left Achilles' tendon in 2004 and missed the final 11 games. He returned in '05, coach Mike Nolan's first season in San Francisco, but had just three sacks.

Nolan ended Peterson's days as a freelancing, outside linebacker in a 4-3 and made him an end in a structured, 3-4 scheme. Instead of rushing recklessly after quarterbacks, Peterson had to jam tight ends off the line and control running lanes off tackle and outside the end.

"That was very rough for me," he said. "But you know, I survived. I never complained. I did my work. I never said, 'I can't stand the 3-4."'

Yet the drop in production and limitations from the still-healing Achilles' tendon led Peterson to join the long line of doubters.

"At first, there were doubts, because I wasn't where I wanted to be," he said.

"Eight months out of surgery, I was worried I wouldn't be able to maintain my speed or get my jumping ability or my explosion back, because it just wasn't the same at the time. As the ('05) season went on, around Week 13, 14, I started to feel a big difference: 'Oh! I'm starting to get a spring in my step."'

But the 49ers didn't wait. They released Peterson, believing his best days were behind him, choosing to use his money to rebuild their secondary instead.

Yet Peterson is just 29. Young enough that the first person to learn he had signed a $54 million contract for seven years, with $18.5 million guaranteed, was his mother. Delores Peterson hosted a celebration over the deal that night at the Peterson home in Maryland.

"I feel great. I feel pretty much like I did when I first got to the NFL. So I am very grateful for that," Peterson said.

"You take your car in to get maintenance. Me? I never took my body in to get maintenance. My body, I'd run on the same oil, let it go. ... I just went out there and just played.

"Now, I make sure I do a better job taking care of my body."

But not those of opposing quarterbacks.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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