Don’t be fooled by his bald head, recent injury history, declining production or the Seattle Seahawks offseason acquisition of its potential quarterback-of-the-future.
Matt Hasselbeck isn’t ready for pasture just yet.
“It is a little annoying when everyone treats me like I’m 40 years old,” Hasselbeck told FOXSports.com after a recent minicamp practice at Seahawks headquarters. “Seriously, I’m not 40.”
The clock, though, is ticking.
This is a make-or-break season in Seattle for Hasselbeck. He turns 35 in late September. He is coming off his worst statistical season since becoming a Seahawks starter in 2001. He also has missed 11 games the past two years while taking a beating behind a porous offensive line.
But there are already positive signs pointing toward a Hasselbeck renaissance.
Hasselbeck might be in the best shape of his 12-year NFL career after a rigorous offseason training program. He has embraced a new multifaceted passing philosophy that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said will have Hasslebeck “spray (the football) around.” And he will enter training camp as the unquestioned starter even after Seahawks management made a sizeable investment in former San Diego reserve Charlie Whitehurst.
“It’s been unbelievable what he’s done this offseason,” Bates said of Hasselbeck. “He hasn’t missed a day. He’s studying the new offense and has really grown with it. The communication he has with players is outstanding.
“I think he’s at the point where he knows he has to take care of his body. I’m not saying he didn’t in the past, but he’s really going beyond what he’s normally done to see if he can get five more years.”
Never a diehard workout warrior, Hasselbeck knew things would have to change even before Pete Carroll was hired as Seattle’s new head coach in January. Coming off a 17-touchdown, 17-interception campaign on a 5-11 team, Hasselbeck said he was so intent about preparing early for the 2011 season that he went on “what for me is a pretty serious diet.” For the first time, Hasselbeck is icing his throwing shoulder after practice. He also greatly reduced his travel schedule – including the cancellation of his annual Super Bowl trip – so he could train long before Seattle started its own program in mid-March.
“I was at my house working out during the AFC championship game,” Hasselbeck said.
Not long ago, Hasselbeck himself was appearing in high-profile playoff games. He led Seattle to five consecutive NFC West titles from 2003 to 2007 under then-coach Mike Holmgren, including a losing berth in Super Bowl XL. Three seasons ago, Hasselbeck passed for almost 4,000 yards with a 28-to-12 ratio of touchdowns/interceptions.
Such exploits convinced Carroll and new general manager John Schneider that Hasselbeck still has something left in the tank despite what transpired the past two seasons. Back and knee injuries limited Hasselbeck to five starts in 2008. And while he only missed two games last year after a borderline cheap shot to the ribs by San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis, Hasselbeck struggled in Jim Mora’s first and only season as Seahawks coach.
“He wasn’t playing good at the end of (last season),” Carroll allowed. “He was over-trying. We thought he was out of whack from all the pressures and disappointment and all that.
“We went with, ‘He’s been there. He’s experienced. Let’s give him a shot and hope we can kind of revitalize his career.’ I think that’s what’s going to happen if we protect him well. He got hammered the past couple of years. Anybody is going to get banged up if you get hit that much. I don’t think anything at all about him being vulnerable in that regard unless we make it that way by not being able to take care of the line of scrimmage.”
Hasselbeck isn’t as critical about his linemen and the lack of a strong supporting ground game since running back Shaun Alexander’s demise following the 2005 season. Hasselbeck wasn’t as reserved when discussing the previous staff’s offensive philosophy or the Tim Ruskell-led administration that unsuccessfully gambled upon aging left tackle Walter Jones being able to make a 2009 comeback from knee surgery.
“We started (something) like five left tackles,” said Hasselbeck, who was sacked 32 times last season. “We banked the whole time with fingers crossed, ‘Walt will be OK. Walt will be OK.’ That was very risky in my mind.”
“The offensive line got a lot of blame last year, but I don’t think they deserved all of it. Some of it is developing a rapport with the receiving group and having some go-to guys and go-to plays. This year, we’ve got a lot more three-step, five-step drops. If we are doing a seven-step drop, it’s with a hard play-action. We had those things last year, but there’s also a rhythm and timing to it. Our old world with Mike was, ‘We’re going to have five or six protectors but the ball is going somewhere. Look downfield. If it’s there, take it. If not, check down and keep rolling.’ We’ve got a little bit of that again.”
The fact he is the offense’s only non-lineman remaining from Seattle’s 2005 Super Bowl squad isn’t lost on Hasselbeck either.
“Sometimes when you’re good, you lose a teammate as a free agent because he’s got value to other teams who are trying to bring that winning feeling to their program,” Hasselbeck said. “Other times, you’ll lose a teammate and you don’t agree. That was probably the hardest thing for me. There were some (Seahawks players) where I knew their value. Yeah, they’re not the tallest or fastest or whatever and they probably wouldn’t do well at a combine. But it’s tough when you lose the glue in your organization and on your team.
“There were some unsung heroes. Pretty soon you’re losing another guy and another guy. It adds up. You’ve got to find a way to hold it together.”
Hasselbeck admits he would have considered asking out himself if unhappy with what he heard from Seattle’s new brain trust.
“When your team has a lot of, ‘Who’s steering the ship? What’s going on?’ that’s a tough place to be,” Hasselbeck said. “I don’t feel that way. I know who’s running the ship here. I know the direction of the team.
“My No. 1 question when this group came in and started setting NFL records for transactions was, ‘Hey, what’s our goal here? Are we trying to win right now? Are we trying to win the Super Bowl this year?’ [The response] was almost like, ‘How dare you ask that question?!? Of course we’re trying to win.’
“If they weren’t trying to win this year, then Ok, maybe this isn’t the place for me. To have a three-year-program mentality, that would be a disaster. I would hate to be a part of that. That’s not what we have, so I feel good.”