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Branch trade gives Butler an opportunity with Seahawks

RENTON, Wash. -- As time went by and teammates started moving on to other places, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Deon Butler noticed position meetings becoming quieter and quieter.

It's the fallout of seeing three strong, vocal personalities -- Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch -- leaving town for new teams.

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"Our meetings got quieter person by person. First, it was Nate, then when T.J. left, it got quieter, and Deion stepped up, and now Deion is gone, and now we have, like, a bunch of mutes in our wideout room," Butler said Wednesday. "It's just going to be (receivers) coach Kippy Brown and the tape rolling. ... There isn't a lot of chatter going on in that room now."

With the trade of Branch to the New England Patriots earlier this week, the Seahawks' top three wide receivers from a year ago are in different locations. Branch is back with the Patriots, Houshmandzadeh is a Baltimore Raven and Burleson is with the Detroit Lions.

First-year Seahawks coach Pete Carroll made it clear from the start that he doesn't mind giving young, inexperienced guys a shot. That will happen again, with Butler starting in Branch's old position Sunday at Chicago.

It won't be entirely on Butler; fifth-year pro Ben Obomanu -- primarily a special-teams contributor -- and recently signed veteran Brandon Stokley also will help fill the void left by Branch's absence.

But Butler will have the first shot at taking on the task -- and against one of the NFL's better defenses.

"That feels good that all that hard work in practice and preseason, they have seen enough in me to feel comfortable to slide me into the starting lineup," Butler said. "A guy like Deion Branch is a good player. Just being able to replace him is just something I'm definitely excited for and looking forward to the opportunity."

Branch's departure seemed to be on the horizon in late September when Stokley was signed and ended up being the Seahawks' leading receiver just a few days later in a 20-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams. After the Patriots traded Randy Moss back to the Minnesota Vikings, Branch's familiarity with New England and the large salary he was due next season -- $5.95 million, but now likely to be restructured -- had the move make sense.

The Seahawks received a fourth-round pick in next year's draft in exchange for Branch.

"Without Brandon Stokley coming here, we never would have thought about it," Carroll said Wednesday. "But (Stokley) came in here and showed his ability just right off the bat, and the background he had with Jeremy (Bates, Seattle's offensive coordinator) and his ability to prove it to us really made it an opportunity for us. It gives us a pick we didn't have and gives us some ability in free agency that we didn't have and will help us down the road."

With Burleson, Branch and Houshmandzadeh gone, the Seahawks are minus 187 receptions and eight touchdowns from a year ago. Branch made 13 catches this season, good for second on the team behind tight end John Carlson, and Mike Williams, Houshmandzadeh's replacement, has 11 catches. Butler, Obomanu, Stokley and rookie Golden Tate have combined for 23 receptions.

A bigger concern is that the Seahawks have just four passing touchdowns in their first four games.

"It's an opportunity for some of us young guys, including myself, to solidify ourselves and get some reps and do some things in the league we haven't been able to do," Obomanu said. "There's an opportunity there, just have to take advantage of it."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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