RENTON – As the Seahawks continue the series of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps that have made the NFL a year-round job for players and coaches, it has become common for media folks to fill in the time with hopeless projections of how a team will fare even though games are four months away.
The fact that you’ve made it to the second paragraph of this column is evidence that people care about such things.
And in every one of these premature analyses of the Seahawks, one variable stands out as the primary influence on whether they can expunge the memory of 2008’s atrocious 4-12 finish.
“If quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is over his back troubles, the Seahawks can …” is the customary preface.
Although these are early, non-contact practices against teammates or “air,” Hasselbeck certainly looks completely healed and in fine form.
Back and knee injuries caused the Pro Bowl quarterback to miss nine games last season. The back situation was so confusing that it was even cited as a contributor to the knee problems.
As football people like to say, “backs are funny.” Sometimes injuries just go away for good with enough heat and stretching, and sometimes they’re nagging, painful career-enders.
Hasselbeck had been durable throughout his career, and tough enough to play effectively in most cases even when he was injured. And so it probably wasn’t considered such a huge issue after a pass in the first exhibition-season game when he made a pained gesture – the first sign of Hasselbeck’s back problems.
Tests later revealed a bulging disk. Everybody downplayed it. Coach Mike Holmgren said he had his own bulging disk; he said that everybody who played the game had bulging disks, even the secretaries in the headqarters building had bulging disks.
But even when Hasselbeck was on the field, he was rarely effective, as his passer rating plunged from 91.4 in 2007 to 57.8 in 2008.
After a fall and winter of rehabbing, Hasselbeck fully understands how important this “offseason” is.
“It’s obviously a new system,” he said, citing the scheme put in place by new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. “I didn’t play much last year; I had a tough injury. It was a very frustrating season.”
To focus on Hasselbeck during a practice is a glimpse into his approach to the game. He’ll turn 34 this season – his 11th in the NFL – but he playfully sprints around between sessions, and obviously has fun at work.
Even before the team came together for stretching in a practice last week, he’d thrown probably 50 passes to receivers, tight ends and backs. Each time, he took a precise drop, planted the back foot, turned and stepped into the throw. Of the 50 or so, in a variety of routes, perhaps one throw was slightly misplaced.
Seriously. The release is so consistent and the spiral so tight, he resembles a baseball pitcher with perfect “command” of all his pitches.
When the Seahawks gathered for their team stretching drills, I saw one contortion that would convince even the most skeptical fan that Hasselbeck is fully recovered.
The players lay face-down on the grass, arms out to the side. They lift their left leg back up into the air and rotate it around to touch the ground on the right side of their body. Then they roll back and do the opposite with the other leg. It looks impossible for any vertebrate mammal other than yoga instructors.
The fact that Hasselbeck executes the stretch without becoming knotted or tearful is testimony to his health.
In one of the earlier practices, he took off running on a play and sprinted well enough to beat a defender to the corner of the end zone. And during one of the team drills the past week, he needed to throw a hard liner through a small window to a receiver racing up the sideline.
So, it looks like he’s got the throws and the mobility as well.
And he’s comfortable enough with the physical part that he finds himself able to fully focus on the demands of learning the new scheme.
“I hope everything’s in,” he said of the offense. “The (play)book is so thick. I think what we’re trying to do now is just really install everything, see what works, see what fits the personnel. And Greg Knapp’s kind of going 100 miles an hour teaching it, coaching it. We’re just trying to learn it, practice it, get so it feels just like second nature.”
It’s a long way until September, and backs are funny.
But to those Seahawks fans given to premature worries about their quarterback’s well-being, Hasselbeck is providing convincing evidence that he’s returned to speed and is fully functional.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440