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It's not training camp but proving camp for Seahawks stars

KIRKLAND, Wash. (AP) -Matt Hasselbeck was throwing passes again, six months after shoulder surgery.

Shaun Alexander was running through the rain and is cleared to play this season, after the league MVP in 2005 missed much of last season with a broken foot.

Patrick Kerney, Seattle's biggest defensive acquisition this offseason, was knifing through blockers for the first time since he had surgery eight months ago. And Deion Branch glided through his first day as the No. 1 receiver, after an admittedly so-so Seattle debut last season.

Training camp? These initial days of practices for the defending three-time NFC West champion Seahawks will be more like proving camp.

"If we can stay healthy, which is a big 'if' in this business, and if our best players play their best, then we are going to have a fine year. We're going to have a very good year," coach Mike Holmgren said after the preseason's first practice.

"We're pretty solid."

Though far from perfect, yet.

At one point in the afternoon practice, Holmgren talked sternly to Alexander. Later, the coach was animated while illustrating with an exaggerated throwing motion how he wanted more of Hasselbeck's throws placed out ahead of his running receivers.

"Physically, he can do everything at practice ... (he's) healed up," Holmgren said of Hasselbeck, his Super Bowl and Pro Bowl quarterback two seasons ago. "He has to get a little stronger, but he is real close.

"When it comes to the (preseason) games, we'll have to wait and see how we're going to play that."

Hasselbeck's position coach, Jim Zorn, thought Hasselbeck looked rusty last month during minicamp. Sunday, Zorn was happy.

"I think for his first time out he's got to be pleased. I know I was pleased," Zorn said.

Zorn quickly defended Hasselbeck for his 2006 season, in which he threw 15 interceptions while missing four games with a sprained knee and then playing through a broken finger. Add three more interceptions in two playoff games, and Hasselbeck threw more interceptions than he had in any of his previous six seasons as a starter.

"You just look at stats," Zorn said. "I mean, he missed four games, so his stats weren't as good. If you just look at stats, there's a lot of things that happened. We made the playoffs. We were a stronger team at the end of last season.

"I think he answered questions as he came back and we improved our play as we went along."

Branch, a former Super Bowl MVP who caught 53 passes and had four touchdowns last season, feels the expectation for more. He is calling himself "the first-round pick" this summer. It's a reference to what the Seahawks gave to the Patriots in April's draft through a trade last September, the day before they signed him to a $39 million deal.

Branch began his 2007 in earnest three weeks ago. He and Hasselbeck began working on routes and throws four times a week, for one hour each day, in search of better on-field rapport this season.

When asked what he needed to improved on, Branch said "everything."

"Jerry Rice played 20 years, was always working on something," he said. "Greatest receiver in the game. If he's working on stuff, we must work on stuff."

Sunday was Branch's first training camp practice since 2005. He missed New England's last summer while in a contract holdout.

"It was refreshing," he said. "I haven't come into camp in, what, two years? It's crazy. "I think I added a couple more years to my career, missing the other one."

Kerney is a pass-rushing menace formerly with Atlanta who went to a Pro Bowl in 2004. He hadn't missed a game from 1999 until last fall, when a torn pectoral muscle ended his season after nine games. After Seattle signed him to a $39.5 million, six-year deal in March, he did yoga regularly in search of more flexibility in his upper body.

During morning drills, Holmgren watched closely as Kerney punched his repaired right pectoral muscle through a line of five standup tackling dummies.

"It feels great using that arm, punching full speed as hard as I can. Don't even notice there was every any damage," Kerney said.

"It's always hard to watch, especially coming to a new team trying to prove yourself and missing spring drills. Now is the time I can make up for it, get a lot of headway and get my game to where it needs to be ... I got to keep up with them. These guys play hard."

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