RENTON – On Saturday, the first day of Seahawks training camp, coach Pete Carroll talked about how cautious they needed to be with receiver Sidney Rice as they eased him back onto the field after an injury-truncated 2011 season.
A day later, Rice had shed the red jersey that screams “Injured Player … Hands Off!” for a blue one like the rest of the offense wears.
It seemed an abrupt change in approach, if not a miraculous recovery.
Actually, it was a matter of Sidney Rice getting impatient and switching jerseys on his own accord, without permission from the staff.
After all, he didn’t want to be mistaken for a (gasp) quarterback.
“I snuck it on,” Rice said after practice. “I know I’m not supposed to be in contact drills; I’ll stay out of that stuff. I wanted to be in the blue with the rest of the (offense). I’m not a quarterback, so I don’t want to wear a red jersey.”
So, quarterbacks are in red, Rice is in blue; his shoulders are mending, and concussions are, too.
He was the Hawks’ prized free-agent acquisition last season, a 6-foot-4 Pro Bowl receiver who would be the team’s long-term answer at split end. He’s fast enough to blow past corners and tall enough to go over safeties to pull in the ball.
He has the graceful stride and flight of a basketball player. Unfortunately, from a durability standpoint, he has the build of a basketball player, too.
He went through the chronology of physical issues last season: shoulder injury in training camp; concussion against the Redskins; concussion against the Ravens. And after the season, they realized the labrum in the other shoulder also was torn, causing him to need two off-season shoulder surgeries.
So, after missing 10 games in 2010 with Minnesota because of a hip injury, he missed seven more last year, finishing with 32 catches for 484 yards.
When health permitted, though, his talent was obvious, with eight catches for 109 yards against Arizona and seven for 102 against Cincinnati.
It made for a frustrating winter and a tedious off-season, recovering from surgery and “just trying to get as strong as possible. My main thing is getting my strength in my shoulders, being able to push off, take the hits across the middle. But I feel like I’m getting stronger and stronger every day.”
On Sunday, he worked during the nine-on-seven passing drills and did extra running for conditioning.
Being on the field, he said, is crucial as he feels the need to be more of a veteran presence in the young Seahawks receiving corps.
“I’m being more vocal this year,” Rice said. “In previous years I led by example, just doing what I’m supposed to do. But I’m taking it on myself now to tell these guys what we have to do to get this team better. … These guys know how to play football, we just have to bring the right attitude every day, and finish off everything.”
Second-year receiver Golden Tate said Rice already has done a “phenomenal job” of filling that role.
“He knows the offense better than our position coach (Kippy Brown). … So, if we have a question, we can ask him first and most of the time he knows it.”
It’s not a slam on the coaching, but Rice ran this offense when he was in Minnesota also.
Rice said it’s important the receivers are sharp while the team sorts through the three-legged race for the starting quarterback job. “Whoever is out there, we’re going to do our job, catch the ball, run our routes and make things happen on our end.”
With his shoulders strengthened and the concussion issue off his mind, he’s eager to get back to full speed, but knows he can’t rush it.
“It’s going to be up to them,” he said. “I know they’re going to protect me as much as possible. The preseason is important, but it’s not as important as the regular season. They’re going to take their time.”
But there’s no question about his desire to be out there. He showed on Sunday that he’s willing to strip the shirt off his back to get onto the email@example.com 253-597-8440 @daveboling