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Hasselbeck staying positive about missing targets

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- There was Matt Hasselbeck throwing to ... Logan Payne?

The Seattle Seahawks' record-setting quarterback then stepped and fired perfectly placed darts to ... Jordan Kent and Ben Obomanu?

"We're low on numbers," Hasselbeck joked Thursday. "NFL Europe and all."

These looked more like pickup games among unknowns in a park than the first two minicamps of the spring for the defending four-time NFC West champions. And, no, they can't blame that on a defunct spring league stealing away players.

Bobby Engram, WR
Height: 5-10

Weight: 192

College: Penn State

Experience: 12

Deion Branch, WR
Height: 5-19

Weight: 192

College: Louisville

Experience: 6

Leading receiver Deion Branch spent another practice day inside and face-down on a training table getting his surgically reconstructed knee flexed, pulled and strengthened. Bobby Engram, Hasselbeck's most trusted target for years, was at home during all four days of voluntary workouts that ended Thursday. He's protesting an expiring contract.

D.J. Hackett, who was emerging as a dependable threat the last two seasons before ankle problems derailed him, was in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers signed him as a free agent this offseason.

"You mean all three of them?" coach Mike Holmgren said when asked about the minimally staffed receivers. "Holy smokes!"

Holmgren said Seattle may add a veteran receiver after June 1, the date of the league's annual cuts for salary cap purposes.

Until then, Hasselbeck doesn't mind being a maestro practicing with these apprentices. At least he can raise his left arm to conduct this spring's drills.

"If I go back to 12 months ago, I wasn't even in this camp," he said, recalling his surgery to repair a torn labrum cartilage in his non-throwing shoulder in January 2007. "So the fact that I am healthy and I'm able to do everything with the team, be in the weight room, that's a good thing."

After all, what is the true value of minicamps in April and May? Hasselbeck missed them all last year, and was still limited into August. Then he set team single-season records for completions (352), attempts (562) and yards (3,966) while throwing a career-high 28 touchdown passes last season. That earned him his third trip to the Pro Bowl.

So Hasselbeck isn't sweating that Nate Burleson is Seattle's only semi-proven receiver on the field this month. Branch could be out through the end of training camp that begins in late July. The former Super Bowl MVP tore his anterior cruciate ligament in last January's snowy playoff loss at Green Bay.

And Hasselbeck especially isn't worried about Engram choosing to skip this week's camp and two more voluntary minicamps early next month. After setting the Seahawks' season record with 94 catches in 2007, Engram wants more than the final year and $1.7 million he has remaining on his deal.

"I feel like I can throw to Bobby with my eyes closed," Hasselbeck said of the slot receiver he's had since 2001. "When Bobby comes back, he'll be the same Bobby we know and love. We know he works hard when he's not here. He'll be a play maker for us like he was last year."

When the team leader was asked if he was disappointed in Engram for taking a stand like this, Hasselbeck said: "In Bobby's case, not really. ... (He knows) exactly what it takes to get ready."

Hasselbeck said the Seahawks have pass plays that they have run 100 times over the last few seasons, "and 97 of them have gone to Bobby."

"So it's an opportunity for the Logan Paynes and the Jordan Kents and the Ben Obomanus, it's a chance for them to run Bobby's plays," he said. "But there is another side to this business. It is a job. As players, it can get personal when it's you. But at the end of the day we all count on Bobby being a play maker for us this year."

Gil Haskell sure hopes so. The offensive coordinator has been conducting these spring practices without his top two receivers, All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones (shoulder), center Chris Spencer (shoulder) and right guard Rob Sims (knee). All had surgery recently, and all are expected back for training camp.

This week, Haskell was also missing what he calls a "huge" part of the offense, new tight end John Carlson. The second-round draft choice from Notre Dame was away with the rest of the rookies for this week's veterans-only camp.

Yet Haskell isn't worried about any of that, even if the injured cogs don't get back into the machine until the regular season begins September 7 at Buffalo.

"You know the best thing? We've got a great quarterback," Haskell said. "If you don't have a great quarterback -- even if you have everything else -- you don't have a chance.

"We have one of the best quarterbacks in football."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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