Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Last updated 7:28 a.m. PT
Seahawks' Branch, QB must connect now
Hasselbeck, receiver lacked rapport in '06
By CLARE FARNSWORTH
KIRKLAND -- There has been a lot of talk about the rapport that was missing last season between Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch, and probably even more regarding how the unspoken connection needs to improve now that Branch is the Seahawks' go-to receiver.
The Seahawks quarterback didn't exactly embrace the subject Monday after the second day of the team's training camp, perhaps because coach Mike Holmgren is tired of the topic.
"I know Mike doesn't want too much conversation," Hasselbeck said. "One time, Deion and I were talking about something and Mike said, 'I know what the problem is, you're talking too much.' "
He's right. The time for talking has passed. The time to start doing it has arrived.
With leading receiver Darrell Jackson jettisoned to the 49ers in a draft-day trade, Branch has inherited the featured flanker spot in Holmgren's hybrid of the West Coast offense.
It's the position that was filled by Jerry Rice while Holmgren was the offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Sterling Sharpe and Antonio Freeman during his tenure as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, and Jackson, when he caught a franchise-record 87 passes in 2004.
It's also a position that should allow Branch to better showcase his talents, after spending last season as the split end following his September arrival in a trade with the New England Patriots.
Not, however, if Hasselbeck and Branch aren't on the same page when that page is suddenly crumpled by the opposing defense.
While it's one thing to know the routes as they're diagrammed in the playbook, it's the ability to improvise and still connect when those plays break down that allows Hasselbeck and the passing game to be at their best.
That's why the three weeks leading up to the start of camp were so important for Hasselbeck and Branch. On days when they could have been coveting what little free time they had left, Hasselbeck and Branch were on the practice field.
Not just running routes, but delving into what goes into those routes. What is Hasselbeck thinking on a certain play? In a certain situation? What will Branch do if he's unable to run the route as it's designed? Or, Hasselbeck simply doesn't have the time to wait for the route to develop?
"We talked through a lot of stuff, versus coming out and running a route," Branch said. "We all know how to run a route. Now, it's all about: 'Where do you want me to be? What are you thinking? Here's what I'm thinking.'
"That's the only way to get that communication, get on the same page."
Branch didn't have a bad season in 2006, catching 53 passes for a 13.7-yard average and four touchdowns -- especially considering that he was playing without the benefit of a training camp after a prolonged holdout that prompted his trade.
But this is a bottom-line league, and Branch's bottom line included no touchdowns and no more than 61 receiving yards in the final six regular-season games.
It just wasn't enough considering the price that was paid to acquire Branch (a first-round draft choice and his six-year, $39 million contract).
It's difficult to pick up a preview magazine or click on any NFL-related Web site without seeing Branch's name listed among the players under pressure to produce this season. The team needs more. Branch wants more.
"I don't think that way," he said. "But that is expected, by myself, by my teammates, by my coaches. If I believe I can go out and do it, everything else will be OK."
Maybe then there will be less talk about what it's going to take to do it.
FOCUS ON: MOUNT HOLMGREN
Mike Holmgren made his usual pre-training camp commitment to remain calmer and watch his language.
"This is the new me," the Seahawks coach proudly proclaimed.
The "new me" lasted almost three practices. After a mistake-filled performance in the morning session Monday, Holmgren gathered the offensive players around him and erupted.
One player who stood out in the sea of ineffectiveness was wide receiver D.J. Hackett, who is expected to be the starting split end. One play that stood Holmgren on his unnerved ear was veteran guard Chris Gray being guilty of a false start.
Holmgren, when asked about his earlier comment regarding Hackett being the starter: "That was yesterday."
Holmgren, when asked about any player false-starting -- let alone one who has started a franchise-record 121 consecutive games and is in his 15th season: "It's inexcusable and I think it's a lack of concentration. It can get you out of the starting lineup quickly. ... It's a little thing, but it's a big thing. It drives me to distraction. If I could think of something really horrible to do to someone who jumped offsides, I would do it. Then you'd write about it, and it would be horrible."
Message received. The afternoon practice was much crisper, and Hackett redeemed himself by making a couple of impressive receptions.
"He definitely had a talk with all the offensive players and coaches and really challenged us to be better than we've been," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "He discussed what he expected from us, what kind of year he expected us to have.
"Guys came out in the afternoon and the effort was awesome. We still made mistakes, but the effort was there and we played much better."
Which, of course, allowed Holmgren to return to his "new me" persona.
-- Clare Farnsworth
source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/football/ ... awk31.html