RENTON – He is coming back perhaps a month early.
He has not yet taken a hit on his surgically repaired knee.
And, yet, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deion Branch on Monday declared himself ready to play in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
Following a sharp practice on Monday afternoon, Branch stood confidently before reporters and took a far less cautious tone than coach Mike Holmgren, who on Sunday expressed some reservation about Branch’s status.
“I’m feeling good, I’m ready to go,” Branch said.
Branch tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the Seahawks’ January playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, an injury that occurred away from the ball and without contact.
He had surgery on Feb. 7, meaning that Sunday’s game will be two days shy of eight months since a doctor sliced a piece of another ligament to replace Branch’s ACL. In most cases, recovery from that surgery requires a minimum of nine months.
“To each his own for everybody,” Branch said. “If the individual feels like he’s ready to play, then so be it. Like Dr. (James) Andrews told me, ‘Your knee is healthy. You just have to be OK mentally.’ ”
The Seahawks got more good news Monday. Wide receiver Bobby Engram, who injured his shoulder in the team’s Aug. 8 exhibition at Minnesota, returned to practice and could play against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Having back their starting receivers from last season would be a large boost to a team that has been without its top six this season, which has led in part to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s lowest completion percentage and passer rate of his career.
“This week is a lot easier than previous weeks,” Hasselbeck said. “These are guys I know. These are guys who have played before.”
Offensive tackle Sean Locklear also returned to his normal right-side spot following six weeks of healing from a sprained right knee, while Floyd Womack and Ray Willis both practiced at right guard. Holmgren is trying to decide which player will compete alongside Locklear.
Even backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who pulled a calf muscle two weeks ago and was expected to be out for up to a month, returned to practice and ran the scout team.
Running back Maurice Morris (knee) was the only injured player who was not at practice in the team’s first full get-together since their bye week, though Holmgren left open the possibility that Morris could play.
But Branch, for whom the Seahawks traded a first-round pick to New England, would be the biggest return, if for no other reason than the inspiration he would give his teammates.
They have watched him rehab diligently on side fields while they practiced, going through relentless conditioning drills, even running backwards up the 40-foot berm that flanks the practice facility.
He has slowly worked his way back into team workouts, running routes at first and then increasing his regime as his confidence grew. On Monday, he ran plays with the first offense.
“If anything he looks quick out there,” Hasselbeck said. “He looks really fast and seems really fast. I don’t know how to measure it but the routes we have been running, he has looked good.”
Rather than wait until Sunday’s game to remove the anxiety over being hit in the knee, Branch said he will enlist some teammates this week to be more physical with him than would normally be the case in practice.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I’m going to have the guys do it,” Branch said. “I want to go through that phase. So hopefully I’ll be able to sustain that and be OK.”
Holmgren said practice this week will determine how he will use Branch and Engram if both are indeed able to play. But certainly he will continue to use Keary Colbert and Billy McMullen, the starting wideouts in the Seahawks’ Sept. 21 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
It appears as if Courtney Taylor, who started at flanker the first two games but was unproductive, is the odd man out, as is recently signed Koren Robinson, who has been unable to practice because of a sore knee. In fact, Holmgren said one of the receivers could be eliminated from the roster this week.
“Right now, we have an influx of guys and now we have probably too many,” Holmgren said. “I never thought I’d say that. But it’s true.”