Obomanu gets noticed at Seahawks camp
KIRKLAND –He’s quiet and unassuming – not flashy. If he stood next to you in line at the grocery store, you probably wouldn’t take a second glance at Ben Obomanu.
But in the battle to earn a spot among the Seattle Seahawks’ core of returning receivers, Obomanu’s work ethic and consistency earned him a regular appearance with veterans Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson in the team’s frequently used three-receiver sets.
“Ben is what I call a gamer,” Engram said. “He looks good in practice, but I think when the lights click on, some people have that ability to show up and shine. And I think he’s one of those guys.
“I’m proud of him. He’s working hard. He a guy who doesn’t say much, but he’s intense and he wants to win.”
With Deion Branch still recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee, and with questions lingering if he will be ready for the team’s regular season opener at Buffalo, the competition at receiver has produced several candidates.
Courtney Taylor is brash and electric running after a catch. Logan Payne is sure-handed and finds open spaces in the defense. Jordan Kent is big and fast but still raw, although the Oregon product is much improved in running routes and catching the ball so far in training camp after spending a year on the practice squad.
But watching the cerebral Obomanu, you’d think he was born to play the position.
At 6-foot, 206 pounds, he’s not a speed burner but has enough quickness to create separation in one-on-one coverage.
And Obomanu offers versatility with his ability to play both the inside slot and outside positions.
Obomanu also has an innate ability for finding a soft spot in a zone and has excellent ball skills. During a good day at training camp Tuesday, he often out-battled cornerbacks for balls.
A sixth-round pick by the Seahawks in 2006 out of Auburn, Obomanu spent his first season on the practice squad.
Last year, he saw action in 13 games, finishing with 12 receptions and 180 yards with one touchdown.
Obomanu said the most important thing he has done since arriving in Seattle is earn the trust of franchise quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck threw twice to a well-covered Obomanu on Tuesday and he came down with the ball.
“The biggest thing is making sure the quarterback is comfortable, too,” Obomanu said. “It’s not just about making the catch and being in the right spot. If the quarterback is not comfortable – especially Hasselbeck – with how you get into your route and where you’re going ... even if you are doing the right thing, you still have to do it the way he wants it.
“So that’s my approach – to make sure that the quarterback is comfortable and make sure I take advantage of the things I can control.”
Perhaps the person who knows Obomanu best is Taylor.
The two receivers were part of the same 2002 recruiting class at Auburn.
Taylor was a quarterback in high school but converted to receiver in college. Taylor says he learned all of the intricacies of the position from Obomanu, a Parade All-American out of Selma High in Alabama.
The two started together for two years at Auburn, with Obomanu lining up at split end and Taylor manning the flanker position. Obomanu played as a true freshman while Taylor redshirted his freshman campaign.
The two were reunited last season when the Seahawks selected Taylor with a sixth-round pick in 2007.
“He’s one of the guys that pretty much taught me this position,” Taylor said about Obomanu. “It’s awesome to still be with him. Our friendship has evolved over the years. I latched onto him so much that I had pretty much drained him of everything he knew.
“And it’s the same way now. We understands the nature of our business and it’s no different. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, we’ve been here and we’ve done that,’ and we’re going to bring the best out of each other.”
Obomanu says he doesn’t get caught up in the heated competition at receiver. Instead, his focus remains on improving the skills that will make him a better player, and ultimately help him earn more time on the field.
“I’m just approaching it with basically confidence knowing that I have all the ability to go out and contribute and fill the void that Deion left,” he said. “So the confidence is there. And at the same time my approach is to just go out and make sure I put myself in a good position to take that spot.
“The biggest thing our coach talks about is making plays, being in the right position and being in the right spot, because that’s really the only thing you can control anyway.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437
Hawks looking thin
By Tuesday afternoon’s practice, more Seahawks players seemed scattered along the sidelines then on the field practicing.
That’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one. Actually, about 18 players sat out the afternoon practice nursing various injuries, and even with the 80-man roster the numbers are getting thin, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker.
The Seahawks have only 11 offensive linemen available heading into Friday’s exhibition game at Minnesota.
Seattle only has five healthy defensive tackles (Rocky Bernard, Brandon Mebane, Craig Terrill, Howard Green and Kevin Brown) and six healthy linebackers (Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, Lance Laury and D.D. Lewis) with the exhibition opener looming.
With Chris Spencer (back), Floyd Womack (knee) and Samuel Gutekunst (undisclosed) injured and Chris Gray now retired, the Seahawks’ main goal against the Vikings will be staying healthy.
“All the offensive linemen are ready to go, and they’re going to be ready to go for four quarters,” offensive line coach Mike Solari said. “Everybody’s got to be alert. And everybody has to have their heads ready … because they can be called back in at any time.
“So it’s a little different in that aspect. But the number one’s are going to have to be ready to go back in if needed. But it’s a great opportunity for some young guys to play a lot.”
Backup center Ben Claxton will be immediately thrown in the fire. Signed Sunday after the veteran Gray retired, Claxton has only five days to learn the system before his first game.
“He’s learning,” Solari said. “He’s working hard, and we’re going to try to get him up to speed as much as possible, and we’ll see where he’s at when we kick it off.”
Home away from home
With receivers Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor, linebacker Will Herring and cornerback Kevin Hobbs, the Seahawks have four players from the 2002 Auburn recruiting class. The quartet has created some down home Southern comfort in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s weird, I’m not going to lie,” Taylor said. “But at the same time I think it’s an advantage for us, especially last year because it was like a home away from home.
“I’ve got three guys here that I’ve seen throughout all my college career, so it was a huge advantage for us.”
Engram: WR Kent improving
Veteran receiver Bobby Engram said speedster Jordan Kent is looking more like a receiver every day as he competes for a roster spot in a tightly contested battle.
“Jordan is just gaining more confidence and getting more comfortable,” Engram said. “You’ve got to realize, Jordan’s only played football for about four or five years, so a lot of things that come natural and innate for a guy that’s been playing his whole life, he’s still trying to learn that and feel his way through.
“But (he’s got) tremendous speed. He’s getting more confidence in his route running and his hands, and that’s what it’s about. When you can go on the field and just let your natural abilities show instead of thinking through things, then that’s when you become a football player.”
Patrick Kerney (calf), Michael Bumpus (hamstring), Samuel Gutekunst (undisclosed), Floyd Womack (knee), Chris Spencer (back), Logan Payne (cracked rib), Marcus Tubbs (knee), Wesley Mallard (hamstring), Eric Wicks (thigh), Matt Castelo (knee), Red Bryant (knee), Jordan Babineaux (knee), Chris Cooper (hamstring), Will Herring (joint inflammation) and Ryan Plackemeier (chest) all missed both practices Tuesday. Walter Jones (shoulder) and Ray Willis (knee) rested during the afternoon practice.
Eric Williams, The News Tribune