The Seahawks’ concussed quarterback has cleared all the hurdles – mental and physical – necessary to return for Sunday’s big game against the Cardinals in Arizona.
Recite the months of the year, in reverse order. Now count backwards from 100, by sevens. Then run through the alphabet, from Z to A.
“Not the easiest thing to do,” Matt Hasselbeck said on Thursday.
Especially when you have a concussion. But those are among the mental hurdles the Seahawks’ quarterback had to traverse before he could be cleared to play in Sunday’s beyond-big game against the Cardinals in Arizona.
Done. Done. And done.
So Hasselbeck was able to return to his leadership role at the pivotal position for the second consecutive day of practice on Thursday.
“I’m very excited to be back,” he said. “I’m very excited to be back. Last week was tough for me. But the obstacles to get back on the football field from a concussion are much bigger now.”
That obstacle course included being cleared by an independent doctor, as well as the team physicians. There were the mental hurdles on Monday, as well as test on a stationary bike. There was a battery of fitness tests on Tuesday, as well as what Hasselbeck called a neuro-psych exam. There was making it through the walk-thru on Wednesday morning so he could participate in practice that afternoon.
“They probably would be hard on a regular day,” Hasselbeck said. “So it was even harder on Monday.”
Equally as difficult was standing and watching last week’s 41-7 loss to the New York Giants at Qwest Field – because of that concussion he got while being sacked a career-high eight times against the Raiders in Oakland the week before.
“It was tough,” Hasselbeck said. “It was tough even for the guys who played. We really didn’t play our best. So it wasn’t easy. It’s never easy – especially a home game – missing out.
“I think that adds to the excitement I have right now to get back this week.”
Coaches and players will tell you that it can be beneficial to step back and see the game from a different vantage point. You can notice things that are sometimes obscured by the heat of battle while standing on the sideline watching someone else do your job – as was the case for Hasselbeck on Sunday, when backup QB Charlie Whitehurst stepped in to make his first regular-season start.
“Absolutely you can learn things while you’re out,” Hasselbeck. “No doubt.”
But what he saw was the same things that were apparent when he was at quarterback. The Seahawks continue the scavenger hunt that has become trying to find their offensive personality in the first season under coordinator Jeremy Bates.
“We’re just trying to find our identity still a little bit,” Hasselbeck said. “Some games we’re pretty good. Some games we’re not good at all. Some games we’re really, really good on third down. Other games we’re terrible on third down.
“We’ve just got to keep plugging away and keep improving.”
Plugging Hasselbeck back in at the controls should help.
“Matt’s our leader, so it’s always good to have your leader back on the field,” said center Chris Spencer, the only lineman to play every snap in the first half of the season. “I’ve been on that end of the spectrum (sitting and watching), so I know how he feels.
“So with Matt’s leadership back, hopefully we can get this thing rolling and find some rhythm on offense and take a lead in this division.”
At 4-4, the Seahawks share the lead in the NFC West with the St. Louis Rams, who play the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday.
Another large step in that lead-taking direction would be getting left tackle Russell Okung back this week, after the first-round draft choice missed the past two games with a sprained ankle. But Okung was limited in practice Thursday after splitting time with Tyler Polumbus on Wednesday. But even if it’s Polumbus who starts, after sitting out last week because of a sprained knee, that would allow Chester Pitts to move to left guard.
“We need to find five, and stay with it,” Bates said after practice when asked about the state of flux on the offensive line. “Because of the communication and just the relationship you form with the guy next to you and the wars you battle. We need to find five guys.
“Guys have to get healthy and we’ve just got to keep growing and getting better.”
One step at a time. This week’s stride in the right direction is Hasselbeck’s return.
“Matt is definitely getting better every week,” Bates said. “He’s had a good week of practice. We’re excited.”