By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
KIRKLAND — As the days go by, and the injuries continue to mount, the Seattle Seahawks continue to patch and move on.
Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney is still rehabilitating a calf injury. Wide receiver Bobby Engram could miss six to eight weeks because of a fractured shoulder bone. Even quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been sidelined as of late because of a strained back.
But when it comes to injured players, the most frustrating case may well be that of Chris Spencer.
Perhaps no Seahawk could use the practice time more than Seattle’s 26-year-old center. With a new offensive line coach, a new left guard and a rebuilt run game, the Seahawks could use Spencer, who is missing valuable practice time while he recovers from a strained back.
He was supposed to return to the practice field earlier this week, but as of Tuesday, Spencer was still out of action.
“I thought so,” coach Mike Holmgren said Monday when asked whether Spencer was supposed to return to the field, “but his back won’t allow him to do much.
“The tests we’ve given him appear to be OK, but he can hardly tie his shoes right now. So we’re just working on it, keeping our fingers crossed.”
Even without all the new faces around him, Spencer could have used a full training camp. The third-year player is still learning to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and he’ll again be responsible for calling out blocking assignments.
“There’s a lot on his plate,” Holmgren said. “When he’s healthy and can play, I expect him to take the next step. He’s played two years, and now it’s time to take that next big step.”
Mike Solari, the Seahawks’ new offensive line coach, said he is as eager as anyone to see Spencer on the practice field.
“I’ve never worked with Chris,” said Solari, who spent his past 11 seasons as an assistant with the Kansas city Chiefs. “I don’t know what he can do. I’ve seen film, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“We’re eager, as an offense, to have Chris in there so we can see what he can do.”
Solari is taking the “glass-half-full” approach to Spencer’s absence, pointing out that the injury has allowed the Seahawks to develop a young backup center in Steve Vallos. But Solari also admits that Seattle needs its starting center back as soon as possible.
“We’re losing time, and that time cannot be replaced,” said Solari, who has worked with Spencer in meeting rooms but has yet to see him practice. “That’s the value of training camp. They’ve got to work together.”
New veteran Mike Wahle, who is slated to start at left guard, admits that he is a bit curious about what it will be like to play alongside Spencer.
“I’ve watched him on film, and he’s a real good player. He’s got a lot of talent,” Wahle said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance when a guy can’t get out here because of injury, but the other guys are working hard. I look forward to working with him.”
Added new running back Julius Jones: “I haven’t seen a lot of Spencer, but they drafted him for a reason.”
Spencer missed all of the offseason minicamps following shoulder surgery, and Holmgren said he strained his back during a conditioning drill just before the start of training camp.
Spencer’s backup, veteran Chris Gray, retired from the game after suffering a more severe back injury on the first weekend of training camp.
That left Vallos, who mostly played tackle at Wake Forest, as the only center at camp. The team tried to convert guard Mansfield Wrotto to center, but he had trouble with the snap exchange. Ben Claxton was signed off the street to serve as Vallos’s backup.
But the player the Seahawks want most, and need, is Spencer.
“This time that he’s missing is tough,” Holmgren said. “It’s tough on him. I absolutely think he’s capable; we just need to get him healthy.”