Receivers will be a top priority for Seahawks next season

RENTON — In his first four offseasons with the Seahawks, club president Tim Ruskell has embarked on three major reconstruction projects.

In 2005-06, it was the linebackers, as Ruskell drafted Lofa Tatupu (second round) and Leroy Hill (third) in his first year with the team and added Julian Peterson in free agency the following year.

In 2007, it was the safeties, as Ruskell decided against re-signing Ken Hamlin and later traded Michael Boulware, replacing them with free-agent additions Deon Grant and Brian Russell.

Last year, it was the running backs, as all-time leading rusher Shaun Alexander was released and Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett were added in free agency.

This year, Ruskell says there will be no “major overhaul.” But he does intend to make moves aimed at not being left shorthanded again.

“I know this: We don’t want to get caught with the situation we had at receiver going into this season,” he said.

Somewhat overshadowed by the injury-induced shuffling on the offensive line that left the Seahawks to play with an all-backup unit in their final two games was how badly injuries ravaged the wide receiver position before the season really began.

The not-so-subtle reminder of that was watching Billy McMullen try to walk through the locker room after the Week 2 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field. McMullen wasn’t expected to play much after being signed off the street five days before the team’s home opener. But when Logan Payne went down with a season-ending knee injury after catching his first pass, McMullen had to play the rest of the game.

That’s because Nate Burleson had been lost to a season-ending knee injury in the opener, Ben Obomanu had gone down the week before in the preseason finale and Bobby Engram and Deion Branch still were recovering from injuries.

That’s why McMullen and former Washington State wide-out Michael Bumpus have been re-signed, and former Oregon State standout Mike Hass signed.

That’s also why Ruskell is talking about re-signing the free-agent-to-be duo of Engram and Koren Robinson — moves that seemed long shots, at best, just a few months ago. Engram, after all, just turned 36, while Robinson has a chronic knee problem that forced him to sit out one day of practice each week.

Ruskell on Engram, who staged a brief no-show last spring in an attempt to get a contract extension: “The bottom line is, he would like to be a Seahawk and finish his career as a Seahawk, and we would like that as well.”

Ruskell on Robinson, the former first-round draft choice whom Ruskell released in 2005 because he had too many off-field problems, only to be coaxed into re-signing him in September: “We have not made that decision (on re-signing him for 2009). I want to get the coaching staff together and we will make the decision on guys like him.”

The problem the Seahawks had entering the 2008 season — in addition to the obvious injuries — was that they had counted too heavily on untested receivers being ready to play if needed. It didn’t happen, as 2007 late-round draft choices Courtney Taylor and Jordan Kent were swallowed up by the speed of the game when given opportunities to play.

That’s why it’s not out of the question that the club also could address this position in free agency as well as the draft.

“That would be a point of emphasis,” Ruskell said of making sure there are enough healthy — and able — bodies on the roster this year.


A look at the position as Jim Mora takes over as head coach and the Seahawks move on without Mike Holmgren for the first time since 1998:

WHAT THEY HAVE: An assortment of on-the-mend and inexperienced wideouts, but also John Carlson — who led the team in receiving as a rookie and is a Pro Bowl tight end in the making. Sure, the offense will become more run-oriented under Mora and new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. But the Seahawks still will need to throw the ball. The foursome of expected starters Nate Burleson and Deion Branch and promising backups Ben Obomanu and Logan Payne missed far more games with injuries (53) than they produced receptions (38) in 2008.

WHAT THEY CAN GET: Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, the two-time Biletnikoff winner as the best receiver in college football, could be sitting there when the Seahawks make the fourth selection in April’s draft. But taking a young receiver (he’s a redshirt sophomore) that high in the draft has been a too-often-miss/not-often-

enough-hit proposition in the past. It might actually be less expensive, and risky, to go after the Cincinnati Bengals’ T.J. Houshmandzadeh if he becomes a free agent. If they decide against those options, there will be receivers available in the second and third rounds — including North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks, Penn State’s Derrick Williams, Oklahoma’s Juaquin Iglesias, Washington State’s Brandon Gibson and Texas’ Quan Cosby.

WHAT THEY NEED: Get healthy, which is the mantra for this offseason. The return of Burleson to full strength is a must, because he can provide the speed and big-play ability that was so obviously missing in 2008. So is getting an entire season out of Branch, who has missed 13 games the past two years with foot, calf, knee and heel injuries after the club gave up so much to acquire him (first-round draft to the Patriots) and appease him (six-year, $39 million contract).

— Clare Farnsworth