Fulton knows underdog role well

  • By Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Monday, June 12, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

KIRKLAND – Skyler Fulton doesn’t scoff at the cruel fate of having to watch Seattle Seahawks minicamp from the sideline Monday.

He doesn’t mope around just because an injury prevented him from following up on one of the biggest seasons of his football career. He doesn’t complain about the most important offseason of his professional life being interrupted or the probability that he’ll enter training camp with less experience in Seattle’s offense than any other receiver on the roster.

Fulton doesn’t whine about any of these things because he’s been here before. The 23-year-old receiver from Olympia has defied long odds before, so he’s not too concerned about getting left behind in the competition for a spot on the Seahawks’ roster.

“It’s fairly easy for me because I know I can play,” Fulton said Monday afternoon. “It’s never been a question of whether I’m good enough to play.”

The Capital High School product is coming off the best season of his professional career, having caught a league-best 53 passes for 992 yards and seven touchdowns while earning all-NFL Europe honors and leading the Amsterdam Admirals to a berth in the World Bowl. His six 100-yard games are an NFL Europe record, and his 992 receiving yards mark the third-most in league history.

But Fulton played most of the NFL Europe season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, so now he has to watch patiently as the other Seahawks receivers fight for a roster position.

Fulton, who might best be known in Snohomish County for having helped knock off Mariner High School in the 1998 state title game, expects to be ready for training camp at the end of July and isn’t too worried about being behind in the competition.

“When I went to Florida for (NFL Europe) training camp, I was at the bottom of the barrel there and had to work my way up,” he said. “I didn’t start until the fourth game of the season (with the Admirals). It’s something I’m familiar with – even in college (at Arizona State). I like that role.”

The Seahawks currently have three receivers who are virtual locks for the final roster in Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson. D.J. Hackett and Peter Warrick are also pretty good bets, meaning Fulton could be battling rookie Ben Obomanu and veterans Taco Wallace, Tony Brown, Maurice Mann and Keenan Howry for the final roster spot.

Fulton, who will turn 24 on Saturday, already knows that the breakout performance overseas means next to nothing in terms of making the Seahawks’ roster.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Fulton said. “It’s fun to play well and have a good season, but at the same time, I’m right here back at the bottom of the group trying to work my way up.”

Seahawks quarterback Gibran Hamdan, who is in a similar position after breaking his ankle during an MVP season in NFL Europe, knows that Fulton’s accolades in Europe won’t necessarily convince the coaches to keep him around.

“I don’t think that league holds enough validity that if you go over there and have a knockout season, you’ll come here and be promised anything,” Hamdan said. “I don’t think anybody’s promised anything over here.”

Having supplied most of Fulton’s receptions before getting injured seven games into the NFL Europe season, Hamdan knows what kind of player the receiver can be.

“He grows on you,’” said Hamdan, who is still wearing a boot but might be able to come back some time in August. “If he has an opportunity, he’ll start making plays for you. After awhile (as a quarterback) you’re like, ‘I like him more. I like him more. I like him more.’ And pretty soon you’re looking for him a lot.

“… He knows the game of football. He knows how to get into certain areas, and one of his really great strengths is tracking the ball in the air. He’s really fabulous at tracking the ball in the air, and … that’s really a quality that he has and really needs an opportunity to show.”

Fulton, who actually considered giving up on football this time last year following two injury-plagued training camps with the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings, said his breakout season in Europe was simply a product of opportunity.

“I played every game,” he said of the reason for his impressive numbers. “Everybody asks me if I was surprised, but I’ve been telling people since high school that if I play in every game, I’m going to produce.

“I’m a football player. I might not be the fastest, I might not be the strongest, but put me on the football field and I can produce.”

He’s just hoping to show the Seahawks that in July and August.

“I’d love to be out here practicing right now,” he said, “but the most important thing is to be able to gear up for training camp.”

Quick slants: Several players were taking the “voluntary” part of minicamp literally Monday. Running back Shaun Alexander, tight end Itula Mili and linebacker D.D. Lewis were among the no-shows. Guard Floyd Womack also sat out the practice while nursing an undisclosed injury. … Tight end Jerramy Stevens, who had surgery on his knee earlier this spring, was off crutches and watching practice Monday. He’s expected to be available at training camp. … Rookie Rob Sims has missed the past two practices after the sudden death of his father, Mickey, on June 9. Mickey Sims played defensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns from 1977-79. … There was a Largent on hand at Seahawks practice Monday, but it wasn’t the legendary receiver. Kramer Largent, Steve’s son and a Tulsa University student, was helping out the training staff for the second year in a row.

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