Houshmandzadeh emerges from Ocho Cinco's shadow


With Ocho Cinco no longer ego-bathing in the limelight, obstructing his stardom, T.J. Houshmandzadeh is free to absorb an appropriate share of attention — and pressure — as the newest high-dollar Seahawk.

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In case you’re fretting the hype might make him squint too much to catch his usual 90 passes, listen here about how he feels to have his name on the marquee.

“That doesn’t bother me,” the Seahawks’ new No. 1 wide receiver said. “Front and center? You’ve got to play. It doesn’t matter. Tell the video people here to get you the tape of our last couple of years, and you’ll see who was getting the majority of the double teams.

“I’m going to get that for you next time I see you, and you watch it, and you tell me who was getting double-teamed more. And you’ll see who was really the focal point.”

He sure told me, eh?

No compadre formerly known as Chad Johnson? No problem.

Call him Housh-The Man-dzadeh.

“I think Chad can play,” Houshmandzadeh said of his mercurial former Cincinnati teammate. “To me, friend, no friend, Chad can play. So I’m not going to discredit his ability to play football because, to me, Chad is one of the best receivers in the league. But I think I can play, too. So he got his fair share of double teams and so did I. I know I’m going to be successful, and I know he will, too.”

In describing his kind of player, Seahawks coach Jim Mora often refers to athletic swagger or athletic arrogance.

Beyond character and unselfishness and football savvy, he craves players who bring an edge to the field every game, and in Houshmandzadeh, Mora has found a prototype.

Houshmandzadeh is more confident than a bear during a stare down, yet he also carries a team-first, stick-to-your-role mindset. After spending several years (and millions) looking for the proper go-to receiver, it appears the Seahawks have finally found the right fit.

Houshmandzadeh has been good for 98 receptions and eight touchdowns per season over the past three years (compared to 78 receptions and six TDs for Johnson). If you look at him over a five-year period, his averages remain solid: 89 catches, seven touchdowns. During this run of consistency, he’s also had two 1,000-yard seasons and ranked among the top chain-movers in the game.

He has Bobby Engram-like dependability, only he’s bigger, faster, stronger and younger. And so, sadly, this free-agency signing could signal the end of Engram’s time with the Seahawks.

Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said this move shouldn’t be viewed as one that pushes Engram out the door.

Still, with Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson all carrying significant salaries, there isn’t much room for Engram unless he gives the Seahawks a super hometown discount. Considering that he couldn’t get the team to redo his contract last season, Engram figures to be a tough negotiator in free agency, at least with a Seahawks team that he believes should value him more.

If the Seahawks re-sign the 36-year-old Engram, they would have quite a foursome at wideout. But if they’re left with the trio of Houshmandzadeh, Branch and Burleson, that’s a nice group to build around. Put a couple of young players with them, and the Seahawks’ receiving problems of a year ago vanish, provided the injury jinx is over.

“I think with me, Nate and Deion, I’ll probably say we’ve got the best receiving corps in the league right now if everybody can stay healthy,” Houshmandzadeh said.

“I was just thinking about it, going through every team. I don’t think there’s anybody better than us.”

Well, they have some work to reach best-in-the-league status, but the enthusiasm and expectant dominance are wonderful, especially after a 4-12 season.

Less than a week into free agency, the Seahawks have their popularity back, thanks to Ocho Cinco’s former sidekick. Or is Housh-The Man-dzadeh the one who allowed Johnson to be a Spanish-mangling showman?