Hackett’s status? Well, what day is it?
RYAN DIVISH; The News Tribune
Published: August 1st, 2007 01:00 AM
Exactly how undecided is the starting split end position left vacant by Darrell Jackson’s departure from the Seattle Seahawks?
Well, after the first day of training camp, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren labeled D.J. Hackett the favorite.
“Hackett has the inside track now” Holmgren said. “Right now if we were lining up to play a game Hackett would be there, but he hasn’t played long enough and in enough games to say this is done.”
On the second day of camp, Holmgren bristled at a question about Hackett assuming the starting duties.
“That was yesterday,” he said bluntly, clearly not happy with what he saw out of Hackett’s effort. “The receiver thing is going to be interesting. (Deion) Branch will start, (Bobby) Engram will play and we will see what goes with the rest.”
And on the third day?
No comment. Holmgren couldn’t say much about Hackett’s prospects, because the receiver left midway through the morning practice to be with his wife, who was giving birth to the couple’s first child.
“He could be a father at any second here,” Holmgren said. “So he had to leave because his wife phoned him. Of course, I wasn’t sure if I was going to let him go.”
Hackett never made it back for the afternoon practice. And in his stead, last year’s forgotten free-agent pickup Nate Burleson put together yet another solid practice, effectively making himself a viable candidate for that vacant slot.
“It’s very much open,” said Seahawks receivers coach Nolan Cromwell. “Everybody’s gotta keep working hard and some of the young guys are really figuring out this offense.”
Realistically, the race comes down to Hackett and Burleson. Second-year player Ben Obomanu and rookies Jordan Kent, Joe Fernandez, Courtney Taylor and Chris Jones are a few years away from seriously competing for a starting job.
It was Hackett’s breakout season of 45 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns that made many think Jackson, and his issues with the front office, was expendable. The guy called “D-Jack” was traded in the offseason to the San Franciso 49ers for a fourth-round draft pick.
“I look at each play as an opportunity,” Hackett said. “I started out as the fourth guy and I’d make one play and get more chances, and then I’d make more plays. Every time I step on the field I look at it as an opportunity to make plays whether I’m starting or coming off the bench.”
Hackett did both with success. With Jackson and Bobby Engram missing games with injuries last season, Hackett stepped in had some high-output games against Arizona (four catches for 104 yards and a TD) and San Francisco (eight catches for 87 yards).
“D.J. has some really good playmaking ability,” Cromwell said. “He has the size and the hands.”
But there’s more to being a starter in the NFL than just being talented.
“As a starter the expectations are not any greater than a backup, there’s a reason they are a starter and they have to prove it every week,” Cromwell said. “He’s got the tools and the ability, but he has to find the consistency.”
There simply can be no mental lapses like Day 2 of training camp.
“At this level the mental aspect separates one player from the others, because everybody is talented,” Cromwell said.
While Hackett appeared to be a player on the rise last season, Burleson looked like a high-priced free agent in decline. After coming home to Seattle from the Minnesota, the O’Dea High School graduate was expected to be a healthy contributor, ahead of Hackett in the receiver rotation. He caught 68 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns for Minnesota in 2004. And even in an injury-marred 2005, Burleson still caught 30 passes in just under 10 games for 328 yards.
But last year, he never looked comfortable in the offense and early drops relegated him to fifth-receiver status. He caught just 18 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns, but never really was a factor.
“Even before D-Jack got traded I knew this year was going to be different,” Burleson said. “I’m going into this season fully healthy.”
Many fans didn’t know till late in the season that Burleson played with torn ligaments in his thumb for most of last season.
“I’ve had knee injuries, shoulder injuries and even fractured my middle finger, but hurting my thumb was the most difficult injury I’ve ever dealt with,” Burleson said. “I had a cast on for half the season and then it was heavily taped for the rest.”
Burleson changed the way he’d always caught the ball, and a few drops sapped him of his confidence.
“I’ve always caught the ball with my hands and now I had to recondition myself to catch it against my body,” he said. “I had a whole bunch of confidence issues.”
But he wouldn’t use the injury as an excuse for his mistakes.
“If I can walk, I can run,” he said. “If I can run, I can play. And if I’m on the field, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have made those plays, or else I shouldn’t be playing.”
Now, with his thumb healed, Burleson is going after the ball instead of waiting to catch against his body.
“He’s getting stronger at the point of the catch,” Cromwell said. “He’s done much better at that in the last three practices. He’s attacking the ball and you can see getting some confidence.”
Having two high-quality receivers vying for the starting spot still means a pretty good No. 4 receiver will see plenty of repetitions. That’s not so much a problem as it is a luxury.
“I’m going to push myself as much as I can to work as hard as I can every day,” Burleson said. “I know D.J. and the other guys are doing the same thing. In the end, that just makes our team better, no matter who’s out there.”
source: http://www.thenewstribune.com/sports/se ... 23124.html