Holmgren and the Skeleton Crew

In any season, football coaches have to deal with the losses of key players – no team has ever evaded the trainer entirely. It's the nature of a violent sport, and everyone knows it.

However, when Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren addressed the media on Friday after practice, it was clear that the 2006 season has been a full meal deal from the injury perspective.

Through this season alone, he has had to deal without his (deep breath) starting quarterback, running back, slot receiver, left guard, center, right tackle and run-stopping defensive tackle for multiple games at a time.

As Holmgren’s team prepares to play the Packers on Monday night, the coach revealed that Robbie Tobeck, the aforementioned center who has missed the last two games with illness, has been hospitalized with an abscess on his hip. Judging from Holmgren’s reaction, the condition was longstanding, and its discovery came about by accident. “It turns out he went in and had an MRI done for pains in his hip,” the coach said. “And we thought it was a little pull or tear or something, and it turned out he had an abscess in there that they stumbled (on). Only this year.

“Tobeck is in the New England Journal of Medicine about four times,” Holmgren continued, presumably with half a smirk. “So they found this thing and they’re draining it. He’s in the hospital. They've got to watch this thing. He’s on heavy antibiotics, I think. I’m going to phone him today and make sure everything’s comfortable. He has a private room.

There’s no timetable for Tobeck’s return, which means that second-year man Chris Spencer, the team’s 2005 top draft pick, will start at center again. While Spencer doesn’t have Tobeck’s smooth relationship with Hasselbeck and familiarity with line calls, his athleticism can make up for inexperience. Certainly, the depleted line can’t count Spencer as one of its main issues. However, Holmgren also revealed that right tackle Sean Locklear, who hasn’t played since October 22 (ankle) will probably not play – earlier in the week, Locklear had been deemed a game-time decision.

Meanwhile, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who led the Seahawks to a 2-2 record during Matt Hasselbeck’s knee injury, is currently down in California tending to his sick mother. Holmgren said that Wallace will be back well in time for Monday’s game against Green Bay. Hasselbeck has been one of the few bright spots on the recent injury reports.

“I think he practiced pretty well,” Holmgren said of his starting quarterback. “He’s chomping at the bit to play. That’s one of the good things. We get him back, and I think he moved fairly well. We’ll just go with him.”

Holmgren thought that he might get slot receiver Bobby Engram back this week – Engram has missed the last six games with a thyroid condition – but the prognosis for his return to the field isn’t good, and it will be at least another week before the teams leader in receptions in 2005 will be out at least another week. “I have to talk to him,” Holmgren said. “His numbers again, the tests that he took, it’s my understanding they weren’t quite where they needed to be still. We’re just going to wait.”

Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who hasn’t practiced this week (foot) may play on Monday, according to the coach.

How is Holmgren holding up under the strain of these injuries? Has there ever been a year in his fifteen-year coaching career where he’s had this many players off the field? “I haven’t had one, no,” he said. “It’s no fun. But look, it happens in pro football where you get hurt. Everybody - I mean, we’re not the only team. This was my first go-around at this sort of thing, where a lot of your key guys on offense gone.”

Assuming that the Seahawks get past the 4-6 Packers (and given their own 6-4 record, nobody should consider that a lead pipe cinch), they’ll then travel to Denver to face the Broncos on December 3rd with a bit of winning momentum. The Broncos will have had ten days to prepare after losing to Kansas City on Thanksgiving Day. Does Holmgren think that may help his opponent? “It could. Denver is good anyway. And Mike Shanahan I respect as much as any coach in football. He’ll have his team ready to play.

”I think that they have ten-day (stretch), you play on Thanksgiving, and then you’re going to give your team a couple days off somewhere in there. You’re not practicing the whole time typically. But they’ll be prepared, they always are. But I don’t think they do it that much different then we would do it if we were playing on a Thursday, which we will down the road here.”

The real focus for Holmgren is on the last six games overall – this is not a team than can afford to miss any opportunity if they want to have any chance of a home playoff game. “Every game is a key game,” Holmgren said. “It always is, but now you’re going down the stretch and there is a bunch of people pretty close to one another. But that’s no different then most seasons in the NFL.

”In the AFC, Indianapolis for the last few years, couple years, has kind of run out there and no one could catch them during the regular season. The NFC typically has been a little different. The Bears now are having a great year. But you’re right, every game at this point, you’ve got six games left in the regular season, and they all take on special significance.”

Does that urgency translate to the players? Might we see a fire we haven’t seen before? “I hope so. It should. We have guys that have been around and were with us last year. It’s not that they haven’t been told. And so they know it, and now they just have to take there feelings and there want to on to the field in a very practical sense and play, play the game properly.

“I think we did some good things in the last month. And I told you, I was very disappointed last Sunday (when the Seahawks lost, 20-14, to San Francisco). We did okay dealing with that, but I wanted to do better. I had hoped to do better. But now, we get guys back and now we have to show some more consistency.

”We have to be better on the field now.”

No matter who’s on that field – and who isn’t.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET and a staff writer for Football Outsiders. He also writes the weekly "Manic Monday" feature for FoxSports.com. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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