From the outside looking in, the past nine months have flown by for the Seattle Seahawks since their loss at Green Bay in the Divisional Playoffs in January.
Except for Deion Branch.
Changes were made on offense … in the coaching staff, the offensive line and the backfield. More schemes were added.
Suddenly training camp and the preseason are ancient history and we're already in the fifth week of the 2008 regular season.
But it took until now for the monotony to end for Branch, the 29-year-old wide receiver who this week says he is ready to play after tearing the ACL in his knee during that playoff game.*Nobody outside the team saw the work he put in during the offseason, other than teammates and staff. There was strength and conditioning coachDarren Kreinpushing him to the max with agility and weights before even broaching the subject of running and speed. That would be followed by stretching, ice, soaking and incessant hours with trainerDonald Rich* working his leg in a boot with stimulation on the training table.
He was a fixture in the old Seahawks facility in Kirkland … pushing it, coping with it, and trying to put a smile on a daily return that not only wasn't fun, but hurt. Heady stuff, it was not. Drudgery is a better description of the means to the end. And to top it off, he had to hear the constant chatter that he would be back sooner than the prescribed October date that was targeted all along.
Now it's real. Branch, who has caught 102 passes for 1,386 yards and 8 touchdowns since being acquired form New England, is back at practice full shot this week. And everybody hopes he'll be a significant contributor in Sunday's game at Giants Stadium as the Seahawks look to gain ground in the NFC West.
"I think my timing's been OK," Branch said. "Early on I know there were a couple rumors about me coming back preseason, and I knew I wasn't ready then. But I think I took the right amount of time to give my leg enough time to heal and for me to actually go out and run and do a couple things in practice to have the confidence that I could do it.
"I'm feeling good. It's always good to be around these guys too, to help loosen you up a little bit. I've been doing a lot of work in the off-season and it's going to pay off."
An unusual set of circumstances that actually made Branch just the first of six injured receivers, has the offense in a bit of a quandary this week because entering Wednesday's practice there are seven receivers on the roster. Veteran Bobby Engram also is practicing with hopes of playing Sunday for the first time as well following a fractured shoulder in training camp, so coach Mike Holmgren is taking a wait-and-see attitude with both players.
But Branch knows, at this point, most of what he's looking at is the mental aspect of the knee and how it will respond to stops, starts, cuts and hits. There is total agreement that the strength of the leg is back to where it was, and perhaps stronger.
In fact, the rock solid 5-9, 195-pounder is even going to challenge his teammates to give him the first hit in practice so he can get used to contact. Oh, it's not as if he's joking around to sell the opportunity to the highest bidder, but close.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I'm going to have the guys do it," Branch said. "I'm going to do a little banging and stuff in practice. I want to go through that phase, because I know we don't tackle that much in practice. I'll have Coach Krein do a couple things with me tomorrow, a couple exercises here and there where I'm going to have some impact. So hopefully I'll be able to sustain that and be OK."
"I pretty much had to put my body and put my leg through every actual phase of football for me to feel like, 'OK, I feel like I can go out and play,'" Branch said. "The doctor always told me my leg was healed before. My leg was healed a long time ago. It was the mental part that had to break through. I feel like I've broken that cycle. I feel pretty good."
Now it's time to roll with it.
On to the e-mail of the week:
From: Mike B.
First of all I must say GO SEAHAWKS. My question is when we get back Deion Branch andBobby Engram, are we going to have to release any of the receivers we have now or will they be signed to the practice squad?
That will be a difficult decision to make this week, as the entire staff – including the doctors, trainers, coaches and front office – must arrive at the conclusion of how ready Branch and Engram are to compete. If they are both ready, then what do they do with the group that includes Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Michael Bumpus, Koren Robinson andCourtney Taylor.
For a player to be placed on the practice squad, he'll have to clear waivers first. And I believe only Bumpus is eligible because of limited playing time on the 53-man roster. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
Are the Seahawks going to start running the ball a lot more at home, because Julius Jones over his career has averaged over 100 yards a game."
They ran the ball more last week than any other game in the 10 seasons that Mike Holmgren has been coach, but I don't think that is going to be the dominant aspect of their offense any more than the way Matt Hasselbeck threw more down the stretch of last season than any other time with the Seahawks.
The key for the Seahawks offense is a blend of the two with great tempo. Once they get into a short passing, blasting running game, they are a very difficult offense to slow down. That is the goal – to mix it up enough that they are unpredictable. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
Thanks for the great info Mike. My question has to do more with our next game against the Giants. I hear they have a bad record at home and since we have a bad road record whose is worse, our road record or their home record? Also Plaxico Burress is appealing the suspension. How likely is it that the league will let him play against Seattle? Go HAWKS!!!!!!!!!
For the record, the Seahawks have lost six of their last nine regular season road games, while the Giants lost five of their last eight home games last season. They came from behind to beat the Cincinnati Bengals at home in overtime two weeks ago – overall they have split their last 10 games at home.
As for Burress, he is negotiating to cut down the fine he will receive, but the Giants have suspended him from the game. It is not a league suspension. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
I was so happy when the Seahawks won against Rams, but we have to accept that the Rams are not a serious parameter to test our strengths or weaknesses. It was good because it helped get the confidence back and that it is possible to win even without our starting wide receivers and more. It showed us that there is life after Shaun Alexander in the rushing game. But in your point of view, is what we saw in the last game a reflection of what the team is capable of doing or just because it was a bad Rams?
By the way, I am writing from New Jersey. It was hard, but I got tickets to see the game at the Giants Stadium, to show to the East Coast that the 12th man is present here too.
Nobody has any illusions about the problems the Rams were having and the transition they will go through now that Scott Linehan has been fired as coach. But that does not minimize the impressive manner in which the Seahawks took care of business. That's what good teams do – jump on bad teams and taken the out quickly. And of course, it helps the confidence. Now we'll see if there is carry over when they get to Giants Stadium.
And it's your job to make sure the Seahawks know you are there. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
I just want to know your personal thoughts about Billy McMullen. I wasn't too impressed with this guys resume when we signed him, but I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised with his development. He was seemingly thrown to the wolves his first week with us. And he's responded by leading the team in catches and receiving yards since we acquired him. With Branch and Engram coming back after the bye week, shouldn't McMullen be the hands-down choice to be the third receiver?
The more I watch this guy play, the more he grows on me. Plus, it's a great feel good story for the Seahawks and the NFL. Here's a guy that was unemployed last year and he makes his first start against the Rams and has a career day. Good find Coach Holmgren!!
A lot of credit must be given to pro personnel director Will Lewis and his staff for finding McMullen and the coach staff – receiver coach Keith Gilbertson, et al – for getting McMullen ready. But you're right, McMullen deserves all the credit in the world for hanging in there and producing after not having played in an NFL game in two years.
But it's really hard to know what will happen over the next week and the kind of receivers the Seahawks want to keep around. With Branch and Engram, that makes seven. Regardless of what happens, McMullen earned a lot of respect from everyone in and around the Seahawks organization. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
Does Matt Hasselbeck spend any extra time after regular practice with the rookie tight end John Carlson or any of the other receivers so "I know where to throw the ball on this play because you know I am going to throw a quick -out or post," type of thing? What I am saying is the communication with certain receivers in a game breaking down is poetry if it is well rehearsed, and it takes more than just regular practice to achieve excellence in competing at this level and going beyond.
Not only do they throw – particularly in the offseason – but there are countless discussions in meetings and afterward. There isn't as much down time during the regular season for 'extra throwing' as you may think. There are countless meetings, film sessions and during the season physical therapy and weight lifting are important after practice as well.
That's why there are all the offseason programs in this generation of football, to create that kind of chemistry in the offseason so once the season begins, it's second nature. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
With all the talk about our running game and how it has been the best since couple of years ago, why aren't we giving more props to our offensive line. Better yet, I think we should give props to our running back coach and offensive line coach. They're the ones who create schemes and plays they run - correct me if I'm wrong on that one.
Another thing I've been hearing about from ESPN and other sports centers out there is how good Tony Romo, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb and other NFL quarterbacks are, but nothing about Matt Hasselbeck. I put him with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as one of the best quarterbacks out there right now. I'm not talking about numbers - because numbers can be misleading. You can have big passing numbers and still lose. I'm talking about how he manages the game and how good of a leader he is. Agree? Give him some love man!!!
A lot of people are involved in creating the schemes for running the football, from Holmgren through offensive coordinator Gil Haskell, to offensive line coach Mike Solari and running back coach Kasey Dunn.
Regarding Hasselbeck, he tends to be underrated until later in the year, and this season in particular because his numbers are down considerably from his career totals mostly because of injuries. He's been to the Pro Bowl the past three years, so it isn't as if he isn't respected by his fellow players. If the Seahawks get their offense rolling and win their fifth straight NFC West crown, Hasselbeck will get his due. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
I'm personally quite happy with the decision of keeping two kickers on the team. Olindo Mare is doing just fine as of now and hasn't missed a kick all year. But he has been injury prone in the past, and if i believe correctly was on IR for much of last year. Plus, they only signed Mare to a two year deal. So keep the rookie Brandon Coutu in the mix for that span, let him grow, learn and mature, so if Mare gets injured or is done after the 2 years, they already have a kicker in mind who knows the team and the surroundings.
Interesting for you to take on that subject matter, but clearly the staff likes Mare for the short term and wants to hang on to Coutu for the long term. It's tough to pull off with the roster limitations in this day and age, but it's obvious how strongly the staff feels about the both of them.
And I don't believe it's about injury concerns as much as not wanting to lose either one of them. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,
I was just curious … with all the injuries so far, has the Seahawks front office considered looking into what's causing them? Perhaps a new kind of turf they're using? Or maybe not working on flexibility as part of there work out program? I am not saying those are the reasons why just listing some examples. Or are they just letting it be and saying it's bad luck?
You make a very good point, but if it were confined to the Seahawks, it would be a lot more practical. Just look at the wide receivers that have gotten hurt this season and the different in injuries – Bobby Engram (shoulder), Ben Obomanu (clavicle), and Logan Payne (knee). Guard Rob Sims tore his pectoral muscle.
The problem is league-wide. Let's face it - the players continue to get bigger, stronger and faster. That translates into more and more vicious collisions and more injuries. The league is trying to legislate on some types of hits. It is a violent game that results with numerous injuries. For a team to succeed in this day and age, they've got to be fortunate injury-wise and be as deep as possible. Technology and studies being what they are today, you can count on the Seahawks being up to date. It's just been an unfortunate start and hopefully it will even out with good health as the season moves along. Thanks for writing.
Yours in sport,