Joey Hunt has been waiting a long time for this moment.
Sure, the fourth-year lineman out of TCU won’t take any solace knowing he’s about to receive his first extensive NFL action as a result of a severe knee injury suffered by starter Justin Britt in Sunday’s 27-20 win over the Falcons. Nobody wants to earn playing time as a result of a fallen teammate.
But the Seahawks have always preached “next man up” and after living life on the proverbial roster bubble for the entirety of his NFL career to this point, Hunt isn’t planning to botch this opportunity. And as coach Pete Carroll declared after the game, the Seahawks aren’t hoping he’ll fill in for Britt – it’s an expectation he’ll excel as the team’s new starter.
"Joey has always done well when he plays, absolutely knows our stuff cold.” Carroll said. “He's a great communicator. Totally different style player and athlete and all that, but he always gets the job done and he will do a fine job for us."
Long renowned by Seattle’s coaching staff for his work ethic and intelligence, the undersized 6-foot-2, 299-pound Hunt has managed to stick around in large part due to his grittiness and improved versatility. He’s learned to play both guard spots and even played a few snaps at tackle in game action.
Despite his lack of size, Hunt wins at the point of attack with technical savvy rather than brute strength. He also plays to the whistle every single snap, as evidenced by his remarkable effort keeping a fumble alive during a preseason game against the Vikings in August.
Consistently making such plays has endeared Hunt to coaches and teammates over the years, making it far less surprising as to why he’s been able to survive and endure at the highest level of the sport. Few players, if any, on Seattle’s current roster do a better job embodying toughness and hustle on the field.
With Britt now likely done for the rest of the 2019 season, Hunt could very well be auditioning for a starting role beyond this season. He will be a restricted free agent after this season, while Britt could be a potential cap casualty carrying an expensive $11.67 million cap charge.
If Hunt, 25, excels as the Seahawks believe he will, general manager John Schneider and Seattle’s front office will face a challenging decision at the position. As good of a job as Britt has done, he’s three years older and coming off a significant injury, the cost to retain him may be deemed prohibitive to roster building elsewhere.
But for now, the 6-2 Seahawks will focus on the present as they try to make the most of an unfortunate situation in the midst of a playoff race. While losing Britt’s experience will certainly be felt up front, Carroll doesn’t see any reason why his team won’t keep rolling with the reliable, respected Hunt in his stead.
“Joey’s been preparing for this opportunity forever. He’s been a great worker and a total team guy and he’ll do a really good job filling the spot. Really smart guy and he’s ready to go.”