Holmgren's Minicamp All About Receivers

One of the primary advantages of the West Coast Offense is that a team doesn't need elite receivers to run the system. Mike Holmgren has taken three different teams -- the 1996 and 1997 Green Bay Packers and the 2005 Seattle Seahawks -- to the Super Bowl, and only the '97 Pack had a thousand-yard receiver (two, actually -- Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks).

It's safe to say, however, that even Holmgren must be wondering how he's going to create a truly dynamic offense out of what he has at the receiver position this year.

Of his three primary receivers in 2007, only one is expected to start for the Seahawks on opening day, and that one, veteran Bobby Engram, is absent from the team's current minicamps as a statement about his contract. D.J. Hackett, he of the long injury list and never-realized potential, is now Steve Smith's co-star in Carolina, and the overpriced Deion Branch is recovering from an ACL injury with no sure timetable.

Because there are so many variables, this minicamp, and much of the preseason, will be more about seeing who fits in as opposed to creating continuity among players who are used to working together. The younger receivers, like Logan Payne, Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu and Jordan Kent, will scramble to fill roles and try to make their mark.

Seattle Seahawks' Nate Burleson (81) runs past Lofa Tatupu during a drill at minicamp, Monday, June 2, 2008, in Kirkland, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“You can see whether or not you have pads on, the receivers have to do what they do," Holmgren said on Monday, when asked how the new kids will work out. "You can see how they catch, how they run routes, how they retain the information, those things. You can evaluate those guys pretty well even in a mini camp, maybe more so than say a guard or a defensive tackle and those kinds of things where the pads really separate the men from the boys on that deal.

“I think right now I think Courtney Taylor is working at Z, Jordan Kent’s at X, Logan’s at Z, I think. In fairness to the receivers, we’re going to stick them some place and have them learn instead of having them learn three positions. We’re going to try that and see how it works out.”

Engram's unhappiness with his contract is a serious sticking point -- if he refuses to participate in preseason programs, continuity is affected, and he'll most likely be expected to carry the load as he was last year, when he caught 94 balls for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. Engram has a cap figure of $2,140,000 in the final year of his current contract. Branch, whose recovery timetable is frustratingly undefined at this time, is on the books for $6.760,000 in 2008.

“It’s a tough one, because we don’t know," Holmgren said about Branch's injury, which he suffered in the January playoff loss to the Packers. "Right now I’m not thinking much about him yet. I’ve got to get my mindset going on those other guys. Deion when he’s ready and he can play, he’ll play and we’ll be fine. Until that time, if I go in thinking that I’m going to have him at a certain time, that’s a big disappointment, so I’m kind of looking at it the other way. Then when he’s ready to go he’ll tell me and that’s the other thing to consider, is that you have an injury of any kind with any player and they look at the medical book and it says this is a 4-6 week injury, this is this and this is this, well guys heal differently, for starters. No one knows. We need him and we hope he comes back as quickly as he can."

What's the practice schedule with an injury like that? “It is hard to come back and go 100 percent right away, but you can point to other athletes who have come back … We hope he comes back soon, but some guys go longer. When a guy comes off an injury though, we won’t put him on the field until he says to push him in practice time so the rest of his leg gets strong. The injury could be fine, but then because of the injury he’s not as strong as he should be and those types of things. So now you have holes to work out. So that’s what they talk about when that injury takes longer. He’s doing fine. He’s right on track. They’re pleased with his progress.

"There’s a learning curve involved, certainly, but I want to try and speed it up if I can do it, now if I can do it and I think the best way to do that is to have them learn and get comfortable with doing one thing right now.”

News and Notes --
Holmgren also talked about the backfield roles. Halfbacks Maurice Morris and Julius Jones will get the lion's share of the carries, with Leonard Weaver the starting fullback and T.J. Duckett the third-down power back. At this point, Duckett's role is least defined. "That is really the question, as to how we’re going to use a player,” he said. "Is he a fullback, is he a halfback? Do I use him on short yardage and who comes out of the game if I do that? It’s all that kind of stuff.”

-- Holmgren on patience with kickers, and the battle between veteran Olindo Mare and rookie Brandon Coutu: "If you draft one, you’re going to make a financial commitment right away. You should never draft a kicker, unless you think he’s pretty good. I’ve told you guys this story about Ryan Longwell. In Green Bay, we drafted a kicker very, very high. He got hurt, so we brought in this guy. I didn’t even know his name. He stood in front of me and the first kick he kicked, he hit our left tackle right in the head with the ball, and the second one hit our tight end right in the butt. It didn’t get more than 3 feet off the ground. I turned around and no one would look at me. It was Ryan Longwell and he has been one of the great kickers of the league forever. He just had a rough day. It was his first day, he was nervous, and he was a great kicker. I’ve learned patience over the years. I’m a little more patient than I used to be.”

-- How will the receiver issues affect Nate Burleson, who has been so effective on special teams? Will Holmgren have to rob Peter to pay Paul? “I would say that we are going to have to see how that goes. He’s a valuable special teams player and he’s good for us, but if he is our starting split end I might have to reevaluate that. Then I have to see if someone can do what he did. We are working on that.”

-- Holmgren on Lofa Tatupu's recent drunk driving arrest: “You guys know him -- he’s a really fine guy. I always say, ‘But for the grace of God go I’ … I think if we all looked at our own things that we do and how many times you’ve been driving too fast and didn’t get caught, things like that. You know stuff happens and it's life and he has felt very, very bad about it. He is a good man. He is a leader of this football team and people that know him know that and so he learned from this. It will never happen again, and now we move on.”

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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