Seahawks breathing sigh of relief

RENTON — The sight was not an ideal one, not with just 11 days remaining before the 2008 regular-season opener.

When the Seattle Seahawks returned to the field for their final full practice of the preseason, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck were not among the players participating. Two of the team’s captains and Pro Bowl players were sidelined by injuries.

And yet the Seahawks aren’t showing any visible signs of concern.

Coach Mike Holmgren said Wednesday that tests on Tatupu’s injured right knee revealed no structural damage. Holmgren called the injury a bone bruise, adding that the Pro Bowl linebacker is likely to be on the field for the Sept. 7 regular-season opener.

“He’ll be OK for the first game,” Holmgren said.

The news came as a sigh of relief, considering how vital Tatupu is to Seattle’s defense.

“He’s very important to this football team,” Holmgren said. “In the preseason, he has to play and be ready to go, but you just hold your breath a little bit. Last week, there were some very good players (around the league) who got hurt. You just hope it doesn’t happen to you.”

Hasselbeck continues to rest a back injury that has kept him out of the past two preseason games. He is unlikely to play in Friday night’s preseason finale against Oakland, and yet both Hasselbeck and Holmgren have said that the quarterback will be ready when the regular season begins.

With less than two weeks remaining before the opener at Buffalo, the Seahawks are in decent shape on the injury front. The only starters who appear to be in jeopardy of missing the Sept. 7 game are right tackle Sean Locklear (knee) and wide receivers Deion Branch (knee) and Bobby Engram (shoulder).

The good news for the Seahawks is that Tatupu and Hasselbeck are not on that list.

Tatupu was seen on crutches immediately after Monday’s game, but he has since ditched them and was walking without aid Wednesday afternoon.

He appeared to suffer the injury late in the first half of the San Diego game, when his right leg got twisted as he helped bring down Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson. Tatupu stayed in the game for one more play, and after battling offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry, he limped off the field.

On Tuesday, Tatupu underwent an MRI and it showed no structural damage to the knee. When the Seahawks got the news that he was not seriously injured, it came as a big relief.

“It’s always good to have your starting linebacker,” cornerback Kelly Jennings said. “He’s like the quarterback of the defense out there.”

More than half of the 81 players on the original roster at the start of training camp have missed practice time.

Tatupu, who has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his three NFL seasons, has never missed a regular season game.

He was one of three players whose injuries from Monday’s game kept them out of practice on Wednesday. Quarterback Charlie Frye and defensive tackle Craig Terrill were also held out of practice, but Holmgren said neither injury is considered serious.

Injuries could alter the Seahawks’ plan for Friday’s preseason finale, but Holmgren said the team will use a typical rotation. In the past, Holmgren has rested most of his starters while evaluating players who are battling for spots at the end of the roster.

“We’ve approached it a certain way the last few years,” he said, “and we’ll do it the same this time.”

And then, with the regular-season opener fast approaching, the Seahawks expect to have most of their starters back on the practice field next week.

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