Nate Burleson becomes pass option No. 1
With a sly grin, Nate Burleson accepts his new task. He's the Seahawks' No. 1 wide receiver by default, the most dependable target currently...
Seattle Times staff columnist
Seahawks @ Buffalo, 10 a.m., Ch. 13
With a sly grin, Nate Burleson accepts his new task. He's the Seahawks' No. 1 wide receiver by default, the most dependable target currently available for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. On the list of unlikely assignments, it's right up there with making Jay Z sing opera.
It's a daffy shift in responsibility for the big-risk, big-play daredevil. Consider it once more: Nate Burleson, No. 1 receiver. Guess that means he'll be toning down his take-it-to-the-house mentality.
"When I catch it, man, I'm looking at the end zone — regardless," Burleson says.
Guess that means Mike Holmgren will be purchasing Xanax.
Nate being Nate, in large doses? It's a thrilling thought. It's a terrifying thought. He is the type who will save you from the ledge, but only after doing three or four cartwheels. He's a wonderful team player, but he's also an athletic maverick, always stretching the boundaries of his physical gifts, sometimes at the expense of sound decision-making.
The Seahawks open the season today in Buffalo without primary targets Bobby Engram and Deion Branch. It means Burleson will be joined by a trio of NFL cadets in Jordan Kent, Logan Payne and Courtney Taylor. Nate must be Nate — and so much more. He must be consistent. He must be more reliable than he's been in the past. He must be willing to sacrifice the big play for the right play.
"Consistency is probably the most important word for me this year," Burleson says. "And playing within Holmgren's expectations. If he wants me to move the chains, I'm going to move the chains. I think it's going to be different, but I'm up for the challenge."
Then, after a pause, Burleson stays true to his reputation.
"But one thing you'll always see out of me, depending on the situation ... I'm trying to make something happen, regardless," Burleson says. "So, I'm still going to be the same guy who looks at the end zone. I don't look at defenders when I catch the ball. I look at the end zone and figure out how to weigh my options."
That mentality has often made him the focus of Holmgren's ire. Burleson is known to freelance. Sometimes, he has his own interpretation of route running, a major no-no in the precise West Coast offense. He's taken some near-perilous chances while returning punts, turning his back on the defense to catch the ball, fielding kicks inside the 10-yard line. Two years ago, during his rough first season with the Seahawks, Burleson nearly cost the team a last-second victory over St. Louis by lining up incorrectly as Hasselbeck spiked the ball.
But the more comfortable Burleson has gotten here, the better he's been. He improved from 18 receptions his first season to 50 last year. He scored 11 touchdowns in 2007, including two on returns. The Seahawks hope they will now see the Burleson who registered 68 receptions for 1,006 yards with Minnesota four years ago.
"I'm going to do what I can as a veteran," says Burleson, who turned 27 last month. "I'm going to do what I can as an individual, as a playmaker, to make plays and on top of that, to get these young guys ready."
Burleson tells the youngsters, "Every day is a résumé."
"And nothing looks better on the résumé than a good game," he adds.
He's told both Branch and Engram not to rush back, to heal properly, because he'll "hold it down" until they return. The more you listen to him talk, the more you think the Seahawks will be OK for these first few games.
That's the thing about Burleson. His talent mesmerizes. His professionalism captivates. He's taken the cliché sportswriters use jokingly to describe his unpredictability — anything can happen — and turned it into his mantra.
"I can tell you that, at the end of the day, when I walk off the field, I want people to say, 'That guy, Nate, he's a playmaker,' " Burleson says. "When I'm done playing and people look back at my years in the NFL, they'll say, 'One thing about that dude, when he caught the ball, everybody got excited.' Because anything can happen. That's what I want to be known for."
His words should make the Seahawks smile and cringe at once. Burleson has the talent to stabilize the receiving corps, to have multiple 100-yard receiving games while Branch and Engram are recovering. First, however, he needs to stay calm and focused enough to be in position to make those things happen.
It's an intriguing balance. Good Nate vs. Wild Nate. The playmaker vs. the haymaker. Keep it simple vs. Anything can happen.
"It's kind of like changing the home-run hitter in the batting lineup, and you expect him to not swing for the fences," Burleson says.
Burleson will take his hard cuts, no doubt. So from now until good health, the Seahawks will gnash their teeth and hope their unlikely new primary receiver hits more than he misses.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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