RENTON – They’re back.
But for how long?
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and wide receiver Deion Branch both returned to the practice field Wednesday, and both are expected to play against the Arizona Cardinals at Qwest Field on Sunday, providing instant hope and optimism for a team that has lacked both recently.
But given their extensive laundry list of injuries over the years, the question must be asked if their return is permanent, or whether this is only a cameo appearance before another extended visit to the trainer’s room?
Take Hasselbeck, who has the mysterious injury in which a bulging disk in his back is causing a weakness in his leg that is preventing him from playing.
Hasselbeck said after a season-opening 34-10 loss in Buffalo that the bulging disc in his back was nothing to be concerned about; nearly everybody has age-related disk issues, he said at the time, and his is no different.
But after suffering a hyperextended knee against the New York Giants, Hasselbeck missed the next five games because the back injury re-appeared – though Hasselbeck said the injury was not an extension of his preseason problems, which kept him out of all but one exhibition game, but a fresh injury.
“They sat me during the preseason, and I definitely felt like I could play,” Hasselbeck said. “That wasn’t an issue. But probably the morning of the Giants game, I felt a little stiff. And something happened in that game that was different. So I thought it was something in my past – but it crept back in.”
Hasselbeck has had a long litany of injuries in his career, most notably a knee injury that kept him out four games in 2006. But at 33 years old, and without surgery, Hasselbeck admits the back could be an ongoing issue for him.
“It could be. But I think – it sounds funny – but I am better for it because I now am better educated on what I need to do,” Hasselbeck said. “Everyone talks about you got to get your core stronger, you got to get your back stronger. It has really revolutionized the way I think about training and the way I do train.”
Hasselbeck received a cortisone shot in the summer to reduce the swelling in his back. He said he received a second one after the injury was diagnosed by a specialist in Los Angeles, who Hasselbeck chose to visit after he was examined by Seahawks doctors.
He said the doctor in Los Angeles initially told him he may not play again this year. But through diligent rehabilitation he has been able to get on the field. He was being examined by a doctor Wednesday night to get clearance to play this weekend, though he took the majority of the reps with the first unit during Wednesday’s practice.
“I’ve wanted to get back for a long time,” Hasselbeck said. “I’ve played with things that are far worse and you just muscle through it. I think the difference has been ... it’s just not the kind of thing you can muscle through.”
Meanwhile, Branch has played only two quarters this season, missing the first three games while recovering from offseason surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and missing the past five games after injuring his heel against the Giants in his first game back.
After the Seahawks gave up a first-round pick to the New England Patriots for Branch, he played 14 games in 2006 and 11 games last season after suffering a foot injury. If he plays Sunday, it will be his second game this season.
Branch, however, said the string of injuries does not create doubts in his mind about whether he ever will be fully healthy again.
“You can’t be nave to the fact that this is a violent sport we play and guys get injured,” Branch said. “I never doubt myself. With the blessing of God and with the help of the guys in the training room, give me the benefit of the doubt of making a comeback. (General manager Tim) Ruskell was telling me to take my time and we will be waiting for you. They could have put me on IR, but they didn’t, and I feel like I owe this team and fans everything.”
Branch – who had not spoken with the media since injuring his heel against the Giants – said he suffered the injury when his heel was stepped on two times only a few minutes apart.
“After both those incidents, I was just done,” Branch said. “I was still on the field hoping to draw attention from the defense, but I was just done.”
Branch will start Sunday opposite Koren Robinson, with Bobby Engram moving into the slot and either Courtney Taylor or Jordan Kent working as the fourth receiver. It is probably too late for Branch to make a difference in the ultimate outcome of the season, but at the very least he hopes to stay on the field for the final seven games.
“It’s been rough,” Branch said. “I have been out a long time. I came into the season hurt, I still haven’t been out to help my team win and we have taken a couple of losses.”