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Originally published Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Brewer

Bobby Engram's injury creates chances for young Seahawks receivers

Veteran Bobby Engram's broken right shoulder gives the Seahawks' young wide receivers with a chance to prove themselves, but also adds a major challenge for an offense that relied on Engram often last season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The first major challenge of Mike Holmgren's last season requires temporarily replacing Bobby Engram.

It's like trying to walk for a few weeks without a big toe.

Engram isn't the most recognized or talented Seahawk, just the most dependable. He's an essential target for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. He's the calming influence on this offense, and considering the transition occurring on the offensive line, at running back and at tight end, Engram stood as one of the scarce certainties for a revamped unit.

Then he broke his right shoulder during Friday's exhibition opener. Now he will miss up to eight weeks, which likely means three regular-season games. For a team motoring through an uneventful exhibition season, an inevitable conflict has surfaced.

You knew some major player would get hurt at some point. It's a consequence of football. It's most unfortunate for the Seahawks that it had to be Engram.

Like all good NFL teams, the Seahawks have shown the ability to withstand injuries the past four seasons. Even last season, the offense survived for long stretches without its starting running back (Shaun Alexander), two wide receivers (Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett), and a spent tight end (Marcus Pollard).

Hasselbeck managed his finest season and guided the group through its turbulence. But Engram, the receiver Hasselbeck trusts most, was there with the quarterback the entire time. This time, Hasselbeck will begin the season without his safety net.

The Seahawks will persist, because they always do, and because the schedule starts with Buffalo, San Francisco and St. Louis, three navigable foes. But losing Engram, even in the short term, does create some significant concerns.

It puts more pressure on the running game, nonexistent last season, to show its improvement while adjusting to turnover. It puts even more pressure on the defense, which returns all 11 starters, to perform to its hype. For right now, however, the biggest issue is how the injury affects the roster.

The Seahawks could begin the season with their best two wideouts, Branch and Engram, unavailable. Branch, who is recovering from a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee, might be back for the season opener. But it seems like a best-case scenario, and Branch will be rusty after being out for eight months.

That leaves Nate Burleson, the super-talented, often-erratic speedster, as Hasselbeck's No. 1 receiving option. But if Burleson steps into that No. 1 receiver role, he likely would abandon his return duties, which would leave another hole to plug.

Behind Burleson, unproven receivers Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor figure to be next in line. It's not the most intimidating collection, although the group has plenty of ability.

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But the Seahawks can't begin the year with those three and two injured commodities. Holmgren thought aloud about the dilemma.

"You have two receivers who are going to be on the roster but might not be playing," he said. "You've got to keep those guys, so you can't really fiddle around with that number too much. In fact, you might have to add a number to it."

Holmgren is saying the Seahawks might have more receivers on the 53-man roster than planned. Unless Branch shows significant progress over the next few weeks, the team might have to keep seven wideouts on the roster. It's not the ideal scenario for a team that has developed good depth and would like to avoid cutting a player they really, really like to shore up a short-term injury dilemma.

On the other hand, it's good news for young receivers Jordan Kent, Logan Payne and Michael Bumpus, as well as Obomanu and Taylor. The opportunity is there for youth to thrive. They've all shown plenty of promise. Bumpus and Kent showcased what they could do in that first exhibition game.

So the Seahawks don't have a disaster without Engram, just a complicated numbers-crunching game and uncertainty over who will make big catches in tough situations early in the season.

Engram is normally the one who keeps drives alive. He's the one who keeps Hasselbeck sane. He's the one who's smart and reliable, even when it doesn't benefit him.

Engram proved that much by electing not to hold out of training camp. Upset over his contract, he missed several offseason workouts and threatened to hold out longer, but he changed his mind, came to camp on time and carried on like a true professional.

His reward for doing the right thing? A cracked bone in his shoulder. It's not fair. Life's not fair. And now the Seahawks must share his pain at the beginning of this season.

When Engram was angry with his team earlier this summer, he figured the Seahawks wouldn't realize his value until he was gone. Even though those hard feelings have softened, the Seahawks still must endure life without Engram.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For his Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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