Hawks’ Engram finds himself in role of mentor

  • Scott M. Johnson / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, September 20, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Scott M. Johnson

Herald Writer

KIRKLAND – No one was there for Bobby Engram. Not when he had any of the questions or fears or reservations that come with being an NFL rookie.

The year was 1996, and Engram was a rookie for the Chicago Bears. He was brought in to be an eventual starter, so some of the outgoing veterans weren’t too eager about giving the kid any advice.

“I just kind of had to learn on my own,” Engram said. “It was very competitive from the beginning. Not everybody was generous enough to lend a helping hand.”

That’s part of what makes Engram’s role with the Seattle Seahawks so hard to fathom. Although he’s just 28 years old, Engram is spending his sixth NFL season as a mentor. That’s something he never had.

“I still see myself as one of the younger guys in the league, but I do have the experience,” Engram said. “I’ve been around and been in some adverse situations. I’ve put my time in and made a lot of plays, so in that respect I feel like a veteran. But I still feel young at heart.”

After cutting loose of their only two experienced veterans – Sean Dawkins and Derrick Mayes – shortly after the 2000 season, the Seahawks went on a league-wide search for a replacement to help bring along their young receiving corps. Attempts to lure Jerry Rice fell through, and no other viable options were available – at least until the Bears released Engram three weeks ago.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren immediately signed him to a one-year deal, partly to help bring experience to a receiving corps that included just one player over the age of 23.

“Every young receiver in this league could use an older guy to show him how it’s done,” said Seahawks receiver Fabien Bownes, a 29-year-old special teams player who spent three years in Chicago playing with Engram.

The most obvious beneficiary of Engram’s experience has been rookie Koren Robinson, a confident 21-year-old first-round pick whose college coaches said needed direction. Although the relationship will certainly grow, it’s already off to a good start.

“The type of person he is, as far as being a nice person and willing to help, he’s been a good addition,” Robinson said of Engram. “He wants to see that you succeed. He’s not selfish.”

Not that Robinson couldn’t make it on his own. Although there were reports of a possible character issue with the flashy wideout, he has given no indication of being anything less than a true professional thus far. A history of academic-related suspensions at North Carolina State gave Robinson a bad rap, so much so that some NFL teams were leery of him come draft day.

Engram had none of those pre-conceived notions.

“I hadn’t heard anything about Koren,” he said. “I came in here with no expectations, and I think that’s good. I try and reserve my judgment about people until I meet them. Koren’s a good guy. He’s hard-working, and I think he’s going to be a fine receiver in this league.

“He just has to continue to learn. Rookies don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t know what was going on my rookie year. Once he learns what’s going on, continues to do his film study and continues to progress in this offense, I think he’ll be a big-time player.”

Engram’s late arrival has averted any competition for a starting spot so far. Robinson and Darrell Jackson are the starters, while Engram is still finding his way as the No. 3 receiver.

So the rookie has had no problem welcoming his young tutor with open arms.

“I feel like Bobby can help me out,” Robinson said. “I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of learning what I have to learn on my own, but I don’t close any doors to anyone who’s going to help me out. And he has helped me out.”

Engram welcomes his role, but prefers to see himself as just another Seattle receiver battling for playing time. He chuckles at the irony of being perceived as some sort of mentor to Robinson.

“It’s not a big deal, like, ‘I’m going to show you how to do everything,’” Engram said. “It’s, ‘You learn this game, and if you have a question, feel free to come ask me. If I see something I think may help you out, I’ll come up to you and tell you.’ It’s real laid back. It’s not like I’m focusing on Koren and trying to do anything special for him. It’s across the board. And I’m learning things from these guys, too.

“I try and help those guys out as much as I can because collectively, the better we are as a group, the more plays we all get,” Engram added. “Winning is the bottom line in this business.”

Spoken like a true veteran.

Seahawk notes: A familiar face was milling around the locker room Thursday. Ex-Seahawk Cortez Kennedy paid a visit to his old teammates and looked like he was still in playing shape. … About 15,000 tickets still remain for Sunday’s game against Philadelphia, meaning local television coverage will be blacked out. Seven of the eight home games last season were blacked out.

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