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Hasselbeck to Houshmandzadeh

Posted May 5, 2009

Each play during a red-zone drill – and several others – ended with the same result: A touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

On one play, he lined up as the flanker and came across the field before catching the ball in the endzone. On another, he lulled the defender by using a slow release, only to then unleash an explosive burst to get past him for the score. On a third, he came in motion before darting in to the end zone.

Each play during a red-zone drill – and several others – ended with the same result: A touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The onslaught in the final drill of the Seahawks’ final practice during their weekend minicamp was enough that coach Jim Mora later offered, “They tore it up in the red zone today.”

Mora will get no argument from Hasselbeck or Houshmandzadeh, who saw the video of their red-hot performance for the first time Tuesday morning – when the veterans returned for the start of a three-day OTA session. In fact, the pitcher and catcher each broke into a large smile when asked about their scintillating Sunday.

“I can’t believe how many touchdowns I caught,” Houshmandzadeh said. “It was at least eight or nine, and I should have caught more. I’ve never caught that many in one practice. You should never catch that many in one practice.”  

Said Hasselbeck, “It was nuts. It was crazy. We had a great day in the red zone. I was surprised. We wore them out.”

TD Targets

Matt Hasselbeck has thrown 147 touchdown passes for the Seahawks. Here’s a look at his Top 10 TD targets, and other notables:

Player (years)

TD

Darrell Jackson (2001-06)

33

Bobby Engram (2003-07)

17

Jerramy Stevens (2002-06)

13

Shaun Alexander (2001-07)

11

Koren Robinson (2001-04)

11

Nate Burleson (2006-08)

10

Joe Jurevicius (2005)

9

D.J. Hackett (2005-07)

8

Itula Mili (2001-04)

7

Deion Branch (2006-07)

6


Other notables:
Maurice Morris (2003-08) 4, Will Heller (2006-07) 4, John Carlson (2008) 1, Jerry Rice (2004) 1.

It’s called chemistry. Or a rapport. Or being on the same page. Regardless of the tag, achieving it is not supposed to be as easy as Hasselbeck and Houshmandzadeh made it look – and it’s definitely not supposed to happen this quickly, seeing as how Houshmandzadeh was just signed in March after playing his first eight NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.

So, what gives? The hand wringing over Hasselbeck being able to develop a rapport with Deion Branch was deafening in 2006 after the former Super Bowl MVP for the New England Patriots was acquired in a September trade. There were similar concerns earlier that year, when Nate Burleson was obtained in free agency from the Minnesota Vikings.

The reverse was true in 2007 after Darrell Jackson was sent to the San Francisco 49ers in a draft day trade, and again this offseason when the club opted against re-signing Bobby Engram. How would Hasselbeck cope with – and compensate for – losing his “go-to” receiver?

There’s something to each side of this heads-and-tails coin. Because the kind of production generated by Hasselbeck to Jackson (87 receptions in 2004; 10 touchdowns in 2006) and Hasselbeck to Engram (a team-leading 67 receptions in 2005; a franchise-record 94 in 2007) takes time to germinate. The more the QB and his preferred option play together, the more natural the connection becomes – even when it reached the point of the supernatural.

An example that is as ridiculous as it is obvious came on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Jackson in 2006 game against the Arizona Cardinals. Asked after the game when he saw Jackson get open on the play, Hasselbeck said he never saw the receiver. Instead, Hasselbeck explained that he noticed the free safety commit to another receiver and knew that if Jackson had seen the same thing, he would be open at the spot Hasselbeck threw the ball.

“It helps knowing a guy’s personality,” Hasselbeck said Tuesday. “In that case, and in many cases with Darrell, he’d come back 100 times on that play – and he’s not even in the read – and say, ‘Hey, I was open. I was open. If they ever do this on that play, I’m there.’

“So there’s something about knowing a guy’s personality.”

Hasselbeck and Houshmandzadeh haven’t reached that level of simpatico yet, but their feeling-out process does seem to be way ahead of the usual schedule. Despite burning the defense repeatedly in that red-zone drill Sunday, each understands that repetition is the key to unlocking similar success once the season starts.

For one thing, Houshmandzadeh runs routes differently than Engram. While Engram would get almost toe to toe with the defender before working his magic to get open, the process starts much earlier for Houshmandzadeh.

“T.J. really works his routes,” Hasselbeck said. “T.J. starts working his routes from the first step. He eventually gets there, but it’s just a different timing I’ve got to get down. He will always create separation. He will always give you a window.”

Using his hands to simulate the opening and closing of that window, Hasselbeck added, “It’s my job to get the ball to him when that window is there (hands apart), not when it’s there (hands together).”

For another thing, Houshmandzadeh, at 6 feet 2, 203 pounds, is bigger than Jackson and Engram – who combined to catch 50 of the 147 touchdown passes Hasselbeck has thrown for the Seahawks.

“No disrespect to D-Jack, but I’m going to catch more balls than he caught,” Houshmandzadeh said.

The statement came with a no-brag, just-fact from a receiver who averaged 89 receptions the past five seasons and had 112 in 2007 – including 12 for 141 yards in a Week 3 loss to the Seahawks at Qwest Field.

“I don’t know Bobby very well, but he’s played 13 years for a reason,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I just present for Matt probably a little more quickness, more size. So his radius throwing the ball will be larger.”

Houshmandzadeh then stretched his arms and went to his tiptoes before adding, “He can put the ball outside of my frame and I’m able to get more balls than they could because I’m bigger than they were.”

Houshmandzadeh said it took two seasons for him to develop an explosive – and exploitive – chemistry with Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. But they became starters in the same season (2004). Houshmandzadeh and Hasselbeck already have traveled productive paths to reach this intersection in their careers.

“For me, it’s easy, I’ve just got to catch the ball,” Houshmandzadeh said. “For Matt, it’s just getting familiar with me and my body language. Once we get that, then things will start to flow real well.”