KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Deion Branch came off the field cracking jokes with his fellow Seattle wide receivers, in a good mood after practicing for the first time in two weeks.
"Out there running, getting pushed around by the guys, it felt good," Branch said Wednesday.
Since injuring his right calf during practice on Dec. 26, Branch has loitered around team practices, waiting to get clearance from the Seahawks medical staff to return to action.
He tried to give it a shot before last Saturday's NFC Wild Card Game against Washington, but didn't have the speed and quickness coach Mike Holmgren felt Branch needs to play effectively. So Branch, who has been in the second-most playoff games on Seattle's roster, was just a spectator as the Seahawks beat Washington 35-14.
"I asked the guys before the game, just give me the opportunity to go out there one more time this season, and they did that," Branch said. "There (are) no ifs, ands or buts, I have to (play). Tell coach Holmgren not to worry about it, I'm playing."
Branch has 49 catches this season and missed four games with a sprained foot. He hasn't played since this latest injury, missing the season finale at Atlanta, as well.
Branch said he initially injured the calf in Seattle's win over Baltimore on Dec. 23, then aggravated it in practice the following week.
Having Branch available for Saturday's game would give Seattle its entire complement of receivers for the first time since Nov. 25, when the Seahawks won 24-19 at St. Louis. Nate Burleson and Bobby Engram haven't missed a game this season, but both Branch and D.J. Hackett have been hampered by injuries.
The absence of Branch led to a career-year for Engram, who finished with a franchise-record 94 receptions in the regular season. But getting Branch's experience back on the field would help entering a challenging setting such as Green Bay.
"We kind of joke about it. When one's healthy, the other one's hurt. It's been tough," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "Hopefully we can get all those guys back at the right time and this is that time. We're going to need them. This is a good defense and they're playing with a lot of confidence and they're playing well, so the more guys that can play, the better."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press