When asked about it, Holmgren could only speak of his regret. “I don’t know many of the details, but I will say what I always said about him. He is a likeable guy, I like him a lot,” Holmgren said. “It saddens me when something like this happens. I pray for him, that he gets his life in order before something real bad happens. I have told you this before, when he was with us, I tried to help. I felt I kind of failed the kid somehow, but he’s got to get a grip on this clearly, before something bad happens.”
In camp today was another receiver with a slightly more refined pedigree – Jerry Rice was in to visit his old friend, mentor and coach. Holmgren had Rice at his peak as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator in the 1980s, as well as Rice’s final season of 2004, when he wore Seahawks blue and took some of the strain off an offense reeling from Robinson’s indiscretions. “I enjoy seeing him a lot,” Holmgren said of Rice. “He has made my life richer as a coach by being around him on two occasions. First at San Francisco…then really when he came up and helped us in Seattle near the end of his career. He’s a special guy.”
Turning to the field and the present, Holmgren welcomed back several defenders to practice – defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Joe Tafoya, and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, all were back in (limited) action. The coach was certainly happy to have some more depth in the depth chart. “Little by little, they’re coming back,” Holmgren said of his injured players.
“This week is a big week and we want to get them on the field and let them run around, get used to things again and hopefully be able to practice them next week full go. It’s nice; they’ve been gone a long time. They’ve been working very hard in rehab, but it’s nice to get them back on the field.”
Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, left, walks the sideline with defensive end Grant Wistrom during football training camp Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006, at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash. Today was the first day back to practice for Bernard and Wistrom who both underwent off season surgeries. (AP Photo/Jim Bryant)
In Holmgren’s mind, each player brings something special to the table – with Wistrom, it’s his intensity. “That’s his game. That’s really how he plays, and that’s how he has to play because he’s not a big, big guy to play that position. Both he and Bryce (Fisher) have to play the game that way, and it makes them good, both of them, and it’s infectious. It carries over to the rest of the defense.”
Joe Tafoya brings reliability, a veteran presence, and other intangibles. Great teams need under the radar players who produce when needed, and Holmgren knows that Tafoya is such a player. “Joe is one of those guys that you love to have on your football team,” he said. “Every year it’s because of his size and the position he plays, he has to be a great special teams player, which he is, and guys are always going to be competing for that position on the team. He knows the situation and now he has to get going.”
Even when players on the D-line are recovering, Holmgren liked the depth he has at his disposal. The Seahawks have the deepest and perhaps the most talented DT rotation in the NFL, and the ends are stacking up nicely, too.
“You have high effort guys in there who have played, so they’re good. You have (Craig) Terrill and (Chuck) Darby and those guys. (Chris) Cooper is doing a nice job. They’re doing a good job. I’m sure they will appreciate the guys coming back for the “reps thing”, because they get a little tired, but they’ve played well.”
Second-year linebacker Lofa Tatupu has suffered a minor groin injury and did not practice today. Holmgren said that the injury wasn’t too significant, but best to be safe with the man who makes your defense go.
Offensively, there are players expected to return soon, as well. Guard Floyd Womack and wide receiver D.J. Hackett are rehabbing for possible Friday returns, with next Tuesday being the latest date, Holmgren said. “Hackett could come back Friday on the field. We’re going to practice one day and leave on the trip so my suggestion to our training staff is if he’s been going out a lot, he has a full three more days then if we don’t start practicing him until next week, which is Tuesday. He could probably do a few things on Friday. Womack is the same thing - We get most guys back practicing next Tuesday.”
What about the return of WR Darrell Jackson and DT Marcus Tubbs? “They’re both expected to participate next Tuesday. Now they might not be able to cut it loose, but at least get back on the field and do some stuff.” In Tubbs’ case, Holmgren said that his Achilles’ tendon required some “fixing”, though it wasn’t torn.
Holmgren also talked about two of his coaches and their individual styles – defensive coordinator John Marshall and special teams coach Bob Casullo. Marshall took a ragtag defense to the Super Bowl filling in for Ray Rhodes, and his reward was the full-time position in 2006. With Rhodes staying as a consultant, how does it work overall? “They know each other very well, they call the game almost the same - it’s the same defense as Ray brought (when he joined the Seahawks in 2003). They’ve worked together a long time. They’re both very talented men and do a great job for the defense. To be able to have them both, I look at it this way; their situation is just flip-flopped. Now John is coordinating and Ray is in the supporting role. It doesn’t change dramatically.”
In Casullo’s case, there are questions. Seattle’s special teams was the bane of the team’s existence in 2005 and results for a team expected to make a deep playoff run had best be forthcoming. Holmgren said that any issues aren’t due to a lack of effort or intensity – Casullo has a decibel level all his own. Holmgren knows it must be a balance between support and discipline: “The players who have been with us know us as well as we know them,” the coach said. “They know if I get mad at something, it’s immediate and then after that it’s not there anymore. Our job as coaches is to be critical and make corrections and push the player. Their job is to respond and learn. No one can be too sensitive around here, coaches or players, because it’s a hard business that way.
“Now some of us, Bob’s personality, my personality, Gil’s (Haskell) personality, we’re all different. The only thing I ask the coaches to do, and they’re pretty good about doing this, and you guys don’t see it too much because you just see what happens at practice, is that is you’re hard on a guy during practice, one, make sure that you have good reasons for it. And two, before that day is over, you go up to that player and end the day on a positive note. Find something to make sure that he knows you still love him and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t let it fester; my guys are good at that.”
Though Holmgren has had concerns about various things though his 2006 training camp, he says that overall, the satisfaction level is high. Primarily, the issue has been injuries. “The guys are working real hard,” Holmgren said. “The camp has been unusual because we have a lot of players who haven’t been able to participate yet that we’re counting on. That has changed things just a little bit. As a result we’ve played young people who haven’t played as much and we’ve had more mistakes than I would like. The effort has been great, they’re learning. I might hear ‘back off a little bit and give them some time here, I think they’re a little bit tired,’ but we’ll see. I’m not unhappy with the camp at all. I think we’re getting our work done. The frustration is that a lot of guys have missed practice time.”
His primary concern now, with players beginning to return, is to sort out the mistakes that a team this good shouldn’t be suffering. When the Seahawks travel to the RCA Dome to face the Colts, there won’t be any breaks from a crowd standpoint, even when the starters are sitting: “It’s harder, because we’re playing in a noisy place against a good football team. The challenge there will first of all to be better than we were in the first game, but knowing that the environment is going to be tougher. We’re still looking at key guys in positions, so we won’t substitute any differently than we did in the first game.
“It will be good for our defensive guys to go against Peyton (Manning) and really see what they have to do against maybe the best quarterback in the game. Handling the environment, that will be a big thing, see how we handle their offense, and eliminating the mistakes from the first game.”
Moving forward as he touches back to his past - this is the balancing act coaches have to manage. For Mike Holmgren, it’s second nature.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. Feel free to e-mail him here.