By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
KIRKLAND — With a long list of injuries and a new facility waiting to be occupied, the Seattle Seahawks have plenty of distractions heading into their third full week of training camp.
Bobby Engram, thankfully for Seahawks fans, is not among them.
Much like he has done for most of his eight-year career with the Seahawks, Engram spends his days practicing hard, helping younger teammates and staying out of the headlines. What makes this year notable, of course, is the fact that there was a very real possibility that Engram might not be here at all.
The 35-year-old wide receiver made an ever-so-brief departure from his typical ways a few months ago, when he skipped a pair of voluntary minicamps to show his displeasure with a contract that will expire after the 2008 season. As much as that act seemed to go against Engram’s character, the past two weeks have been handled with typical Engram class.
“In this day and age, you might say it’s surprising that you ever see that,” head coach Mike Holmgren said of Engram’s willingness to report on time and work as hard as ever. “But with him, (it’s) no (surprise). He’s a pretty solid guy.”
Engram was so miffed at his contract status — he is due to make about $1.7 million in base salary this season, or about half the amount due to teammates Deion Branch and Nate Burleson — that he seriously considered skipping part of training camp. But in the end, he decided to re-join the team and continue approaching practices as he always has.
“It’s bigger than football,” Engram said last week. “If you’re going to try to live your life a certain way, you can’t be a hypocrite and do it when it’s convenient. I do realize it’s a business. There’s a business side to the game we play.”
Engram’s mindset was apparent on the first day of camp, when he saddled up to a couple younger receivers and showed them how to run a route. Several times Engram has done the same with young defensive players, pointing out things that only an experienced veteran can.
Always considered one of the team’s indisputable leaders, Engram has actually been even more vocal this camp.
“I’m just trying to do it a little differently,” Engram said last week. “I’m not going to let things that didn’t happen affect me in a negative way. I’m not going to come out here bitter or distracted or let it affect my performance.
“I just look forward to getting ready for the season. That’s what my focus is.”
Engram’s lack of an attitude has given coaches and teammates even more respect him, both as a player and a person.
“You get an appreciation for a lot of things Bobby is,” wide receivers coach Keith Gilbertson said. “He’s the complete package. He’s a great human being, a great teammate. He knows his craft; he’s a professional. He’s been terrific.”
Engram has become an even bigger leader when the Seahawks needed it most. Fullback Mack Strong, who has been at every training camp since 1993, and offensive lineman Chris Gray, who missed only a handful of training camp practices during his first 10 years in Seattle, have both retired. That leaves Engram — he is five months older than kicker Olindo Mare, the second-oldest player on the team — as the Seahawks’ elder statesman.
He is also coming off the biggest season of his career, which brings even more credibility. Engram followed up a 2007 season that was shortened by a thyroid condition by catching a franchise-record 94 passes last fall.
“Before, I don’t want to call him second fiddle, but he’s been in the background a little bit,” said Burleson, who is slated to join Engram as a starter this season. “Last year, he was the leader of the team. Now everybody is paying attention a little bit more, and they’re able to see that.
“He doesn’t only go out there and perform at an almost perfect level of execution, but he also knows how to coach and teach the game.”
But Engram’s unwillingness to pout doesn’t mean that he has totally accepted his contractual position. He’s still somewhat bitter over the lack of a new contract, even if he doesn’t let it show.
“I know what his mindset is: he’s not happy,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said last week. “He’s not happy at all. He’s extremely upset, but he’s the kind of guy that puts the team first.”
Engram wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is his final season in Seattle, but he has certainly dropped a few hints. Take last week, for example, when Engram was asked whether he has a good gauge for how the franchise feels about him.
“Their inactivity,” he said, referring to the non-existent negotiations for a contract extension, “speaks for itself.”
Engram has been anything but inactive this camp. While some feelings have been hurt, and the impasse never did reach a resolution, Engram is just as much a leader as ever.
He is back where he belongs: on a football field. And Bobby Engram has few regrets about how things went down.
“I took a step back to see the organization’s stance,” he said. “That’s what I gained from (the skipped minicamps). You can look at the situation much better when you know where you stand in it.
“I know where I stand, and it’s time to move on and play football.”