The news that the Seahawks were in the process of signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh came as Nate Burleson was resting after yet another rehabilitation session from the knee injury he suffered in the season opener last year.
Pain on top of the pain for the team’s incumbent starting split end?
Hardly. Burleson has embraced — and is endorsing — another pair of productive hands being added to the Seahawks offense.
“It made me smile,” Burleson said Thursday from Reno, Nev., where he was getting ready to watch his brother, Lyndale, play his final home game for the University of Nevada basketball team. “I’m excited about what’s going on.”
Despite the arrival of a receiver who has averaged 98 receptions the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and was given a five-year, $40 million contract that ensures he’s not here to play a backup role, Burleson and flanker Deion Branch are smart enough to realize that game days just got a little easier for them.
When the Seahawks break the huddle with the ability to feature Houshmandzadeh, Burleson, Branch and tight end John Carlson in a variety of formations — as coach Jim Mora has said they will — the onus is going to be on the opposition to decipher which receivers to cover with which defenders.
“If you play us straight up,” Burleson said, “we’re going to have a pretty good chance of winning.”
Burleson, who played at O’Dea High School before going to Nevada, has been in this situation before. It was 2004, the year after the Minnesota Vikings had selected him in the third round of the NFL draft.
The Vikings already had Randy Moss, and Burleson was competing with Marcus Robinson for the other starting spot.
“Marcus said, ‘There’s enough food on the table for everybody to eat,’ ” said Burleson, who signed with the Seahawks in 2006. “I will never forget that. And that’s the way I’m looking at this situation.”
Burleson has carried a similar story with him through the arduous rehab from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against the Bills in Buffalo in September. Shortly after the injury, a reporter reminded Burleson that former Seahawks wide receiver Joey Galloway had needed similar surgery during his career at Ohio State, only to return faster than he was before the injury.
“That story, to be honest, has motivated me,” Burleson said. “I went into my rehab and instead of having a mind-set that I wanted to get back to where I was, I realized I can be faster than I was before because of the throwback exercises I’ve had to do during the rehab.”
The payoff came the other day, when he was running on the practice field.
“I was exploding off the line,” Burleson said. “For about 15-20 yards, I probably felt as fast as I’ve ever felt.”
Burleson had a chance to talk with Houshmandzadeh for 45 minutes during his visit last week. But Burleson already was a fan, from watching the former Bengal on video.
Houshmandzadeh’s best trait? His sure hands? Those precise routes he is known for? The size (6 feet 2, 199 pounds) he brings to the mix?
“His eyes,” Burleson said. “The way they turn toward the end zone when he catches the ball. I like to see guys who play like that, because I play like that.”