Back to Ben, again

Posted Nov 29, 2011

With Sidney Rice not expected to play in Thursday night's game against the Eagles because of a concussion, the Seahawks are turning once again to versatile wide receiver Ben Obomanu.

Regardless of how it might seem, the Seahawks do not keep Ben Obomanu in a glass enclosure in the locker room with a sign that reads “in case of emergency, break glass.”

No, Obomanu has a cubicle, just like everyone else. But the sixth-year wide receiver has become the guy the coaches go to whenever – and wherever – they need him.

This week that means stepping in for Sidney Rice in Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field. Rice got his second concussion this season in Sunday’s loss to the Washington Redskins and the short week just doesn’t give him enough time to come back.

“This format rules him out,” is the way coach Pete Carroll put it.

So it’s Obomanu time. Again.

Obomanu started the first two games this season when Rice was out with a shoulder injury, and responded with six catches. Obomanu also started in Week 5, as well as Weeks 8-9, because Mike Williams was out. He caught six passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in the Week 5 upset of the New York Giants, and then had four catches for 107 yards in the Week 8 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“He’s just what you’re looking for,” Carroll said of Obomanu. “He gets it. He’s working really hard. He understands everything. He’s adaptable to the positions and the different aspects of the positions – whether you’re asking him to block, or go down field, or make the tough catches inside.

“He can do everything. He’s just grown into a real favorite of ours because he’s so flexible and he has the versatility. We’ll count on him.”

He was talking about Obomanu, right? The same former seventh-round draft choice who was close to being counted out on the final roster cut during his first few seasons with the Seahawks?

Yes, that Ben Obomanu, who has found a home the past two seasons with the arrival of Carroll and his staff.

Obomanu is third on the team in receptions (28), behind Doug Baldwin (37) and Rice (32). He’s also third in receiving yards (295), also behind Baldwin (604) and Rice (484). He also has two touchdown catches to share the lead with Baldwin, Rice and Golden Tate.

Last season, Obomanu stepped in to start six of the final eight regular-season games and both playoff games because first Williams and then Deon Butler were injured. Again, he stepped up, catching 30 passes for a 16.5-yard average and four touchdowns during the regular season and contributing nine more receptions in the postseason.

These opportunities have been a long time coming for Obomanu, who did not start a game and caught a total of 15 passes in his previous three seasons with Seahawks and spent a fourth on injured reserve after breaking his clavicle while diving for a pass in the final preseason game in 2008.

“I think that’s one of the things that has kept me here with the Seahawks for such a long time,” said Obomanu, who joined the team in 2006 and is second on the roster in terms for tenure with the Seahawks behind linebacker Leroy Hill.

“I know a lot of people think, ‘How does a guy stay around so long?’ That’s part of it, make sure that you add some life to the team by showing how valuable you are and how many things you can do. It’s been working out pretty good, and I’m glad they recognized that.”

While waiting his turn as a receiver, Obomanu earned his keep – and kept his roster spot – by playing special teams. He had 12 tackles covering punts and kickoffs in 2009. This season, he recovered a fumble on a kickoff to setup a touchdown in the Week 10 upset of the Baltimore Ravens and, in Sunday’s game, downed a Jon Ryan punt at the Redskins’ 4-yard line.

Talk about the more things you can do. But the thing the team needs Obomanu to do now is display his ability to make plays in the passing game. Again, and from another spot.

“I think it all started coming in as a seventh-round pick,” Obomanu said when asked about his versatility. “You have to learn every position and utilize the opportunity that may come when anybody goes down or a situation presents itself.

“That’s been my mindset from Day One. So it’s still the same thing now – preparing myself at every position. You’d love to have a position that’s yours, so you don’t have to be the swing guy all the time. But that’s been my role for a while, and I’ll continue to try to do the best I can.”

Which almost always is at least good enough, and often better than that.

Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are in their first season working with Obomanu, but it hasn’t reduced their appreciation for what he brings to the mix.

“You can always count on him,” said Jackson, who was signed in free agency in late July. “He always does everything right. He can make plays for you. In my eyes, he’s like a starter.

“Whenever Mike is down or Sid is down, he can step in and we’re not really losing a lot. In some things, he may even do better.”

Bevell joined Carroll’s staff in January, but he has a similar take on how fortunate the offense is have Obomanu – whenever needed and wherever needed.

“He’s talented guy, and he’s somebody that we really count on,” Bevell said. “He plays just about every position for us. He’s a smart guy. We put him wherever and he’s good at it.

“So it’s a luxury for us.”