By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
KIRKLAND — After a stressful offseason that saw him skip several minicamps because of a contract dispute, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram swallowed his pride and reported for training camp on time late last month.
All it got him was a broken shoulder.
The Seahawks announced Monday that Engram, their leading receiver in 2007, would be out six to eight weeks because of a cracked bone in his right shoulder. Engram hurt his shoulder on the first offensive play of Friday’s preseason opener — he stayed in the game and caught another pass — and it looks like he might not be back until after the Sept. 28 bye week.
“Best case (scenario), we have him back a little earlier,” coach Mike Holmgren said. “Bobby is a very important part of what we do offensively. But injuries are a part of this thing, and you deal with it.”
The injury, which was originally deemed so minor that the Seahawks’ public-relations department announced that Engram only had bumps and bruises, further weakens a receiving corps that is starved for experience. Sixth-year player Nate Burleson and journeyman Bryan Gilmore are the only healthy receivers on Seattle’s roster who have started an NFL game. And Gilmore is a long shot to make the final 53-man roster.
“The young ones have to step up and play,” said Holmgren, who is holding out hope that starter Deion Branch returns from a knee injury sometime in September. “We’ve said that already, and now they just have to do it for a while.”
The most likely candidate to replace Engram in the starting lineup, at least until Branch gets back, is Courtney Taylor. The second-year player from Auburn has caught just five NFL passes but has the most big-play ability among Seattle’s young receivers. All offseason he has also been working at Engram’s flanker position, where he ran with the No. 1 offense during minicamps.
“Courtney’s a pretty explosive guy,” Holmgren said. “He’s got great skill. He’s fast. I mean, his athletic ability is special.”
Taylor, 24, said he hopes to be ready to fill the void.
“The circumstances are not what you want them to be, but I still have to go out and perform for this team,” he said. “That’s been my mindset from Day 1, and that’s my whole mindset: to perform.”
Taylor knows that he hasn’t won the starting job yet.
“Those are just words to me,” he said of hearing that he is Engram’s likely replacement. “(Holmgren) is the Big Show, so when you get that kind of pressure on you, it’s like: ‘Oh, wow. This is a lot of pressure.’
“But I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing. That’s all I can do.”
The other candidates to replace Engram include Ben Obomanu, Logan Payne and Jordan Kent, at least two of whom should see significant playing time when the regular season begins. Only Obomanu, with 12 receptions, has caught a pass among that group.
Holmgren admitted that this is the most inexperienced receiving corps he has ever had entering a season.
“I like them, though,” he said.
Then, tongue planted firmly in cheek, Holmgren added: “Of course, we’re turning into a running team now. So I don’t have to worry quite as much.”
The loss of Engram is a big one for a Seahawks team that actually relies first and foremost on the pass. Engram, who turned 35 in January, caught a franchise-record 94 passes last season and has been quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s favorite target for most of their eight seasons together.
Although the coaches always considered Engram to be best-suited for the slot role as No. 3 receiver, the veteran has been Seattle’s most productive receiver for the majority of his career here.
He has led the team in receiving in two of the past three seasons, including a record-setting year in 2007.
After his career-best season, Engram approached the Seahawks about a contract extension a few months ago. When that didn’t happen, he skipped several voluntary minicamp sessions. Engram threatened to sit out the start of training camp but eventually decided to report.
“It’s bigger than football,” Engram said last week when asked why he made it to camp on time. “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.”
In the end, Engram’s participation at training camp was a short-lived endeavor. And now the Seahawks will have to move on without him.
“It’s tough,” said Burleson, who caught 50 passes and scored nine touchdowns last season. “I don’t know the depth of (Engram’s) injury; I just hope he’ll be sooner rather than later.
“I know Bobby’s a resilient individual, so I’m not too concerned. Right now, we’re just trying to hold it down until he gets back.”