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Originally published Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Time for Seahawks to "buckle down, get serious"

Nate Burleson's words are likely what coach Mike Holmgren wants to hear from his veteran receiver to start the 2008 campaign.

Seattle Times staff reporter

KIRKLAND — Nate Burleson's mohawk is gone, shaved off so that his hair is cropped close to the scalp. Even his mustache was trimmed.

"It's kind of time to buckle down, get serious," Burleson said.

Bobby Engram was just as businesslike as the Seahawks began training camp, reporting for Friday's practices even after his offseason request for a contract extension went unfulfilled.

"I am under contract," Engram said, "[I'm] just doing the right thing and handling what I can handle. That's playing football."

The Seahawks have placed a lot of faith in the hands of Burleson and Engram. They are two of the holdovers Seattle's overhauled offense will lean upon as it sorts itself out with three new assistant coaches, two new halfbacks and one unsigned rookie to play tight end.

Deion Branch is unable to practice as he recovers from knee surgery, and the Seahawks let D.J. Hackett go to Carolina as a free agent. That leaves Engram and Burleson AS the two most experienced components of a largely inexperienced group of wide receivers that also includes Ben Obomanu and Courtney Taylor, who have 17 career receptions between them, and Logan Payne and Jordan Kent, who spent last year on the practice squad.

Engram and Burleson are the veterans Holmgren is counting on, the sure hands he's trusting in his final season as Seahawks coach.

"I expect them to do what they do," Holmgren said.

A year ago he didn't know what to expect from them. Engram and Burleson were the question marks in training camp, but ended up being exclamation points in the regular season, Engram leading the team with 94 receptions and Burleson catching a team-high nine touchdown passes.

No one saw that kind of success coming. Engram played only seven games in 2006 after suffering from a thyroid condition, and Burleson was coming off a disappointing first season with the Seahawks. Burleson struggled with a thumb injury and caught only 18 passes. His biggest contribution came as a punt returner in 2006, and he began last training camp determined to show everyone that president Tim Ruskell didn't make a mistake in signing him as a free agent.

"I came in with the mind-set that I had to really prove myself," Burleson said, "to everybody from Ruskell to Holmgren, my teammates, the media, friends and family."

Burleson remains an elite returner, running back a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season. He also caught 50 passes, nine of them for touchdowns.

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"I kind of found a rhythm here and there," Burleson said. "I think for the most part, they know here what I can do. It's just being healthy and having an opportunity."

That was certainly the case for Engram last season. The year began with Holmgren saying one receiver would step up to become the top option. The expectation was that it would be Branch. It turned out to be Engram, who set a career high in receptions the age of 34.

Engram has one year remaining on his contract, which calls for him to make $1.7 million. More than 80 receivers in the league will make more than that this season. Engram wanted to extend the contract, and he went so far as to sit out the team's voluntary workouts.

He did volunteer to run routes for Matt Hasselbeck, though. The two found time for some workouts earlier this month when their families were vacationing at Lake Chelan and several other times. They even got interrupted once and were asked to leave a field because of a high-school seven-on-seven passing camp.

"Throwing to Bobby is kind of like riding a bike," Hasselbeck said. "It just kind of comes back right away."

The timing returned as soon as Engram returned to the team.

"I'm under contract, I'm going to honor that contract," Engram said. "I know after last year, I can play at that level for three, four, five more years and hopefully that's in Seattle. But if that's not meant to be, we have to move on and deal with that when the time comes.

"But for now, I'm happy to be here."

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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