RENTON — The 2008 season was disappointing to all the Seattle Seahawks, but maybe for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck more than anyone.
Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowler, played in just seven of Seattle’s 16 regular-season games. He appeared in the first four, sat out the next five with a bulging disk in his back, played in the next three, and then missed the rest of the season with the same back injury.
Although the Seahawks had a bevy of problems in their 4-12 season, not having Hasselbeck for nine games was certainly one of the biggest.
“I feel very disappointed that I wasn’t a part of it,” he said Monday. “I just feel like I didn’t have an opportunity to help this year. And I didn’t help. I didn’t really add anything good to the team’s chances of getting to the playoffs and accomplishing our goals.”
Standing in the locker room to face a large semicircle of media, Hasselbeck seemed spry enough. “But if we had a game next week, I still wouldn’t be cleared to play,” he said.
Hasselbeck probably has one more month of rehabilitation before he resumes vigorous offseason workouts. Along the way, he will likely have another X-ray to evaluate his healing.
And by the time the Seahawks take the field for their first spring minicamp under new coach Jim Mora, Hasselbeck expects to be fully ready.
With the exercises and weight training he has done to strengthen his torso muscles, “I felt like I had a lot more velocity on my ball,” Hasselbeck said. “I was definitely throwing it further, and that was while I was hurt.
“I really feel that learning about my injury and learning about what I had this year will really change how I prepare for the (next) season and how I work out,” he said. “I think I’ll definitely be stronger for it.”
Hasselbeck is one of several Seahawks who had their seasons cut short by injuries. Another is offensive tackle Walter Jones, who missed the team’s last four games with a microfracture in his left knee which required surgery earlier this month.
Jones was walking without a limp on Monday and said he expects to be ready for the 2009 season, which will be the 13th for the 34-year-old Jones, an eight-time Pro Bowler. It would be nine if he played this season — and he was selected — but his injury and rehabilitation mean he will miss the trip to Hawaii.
“It will be awhile before I can get back on the field doing stuff,” Jones said. “(Team doctors) are going to take it real slow to make sure it heals perfectly and I come back strong. … A couple of days after the surgery it felt pretty good. The swelling is going down, so everything is going according to plan.”
More on injuries: Defensive end Patrick Kerney played seven games this season before being lost to shoulder surgery. He was one of 14 players to end the season on Seattle’s injured reserve list.
For the Seahawks, he said, getting healthy “is the No. 1 priority for sure (for next season). The difference between the team that’s going to win the Super Bowl and the (winless) Detroit Lions is not as much as people think.
“I think outside sources want to paint it as mile, and it’s really an inch. I think we as players recognize that. And I think it’s important that young guys with less experience recognize the fact that you don’t have too much ground to cover to get back in contention for a world championship.”
Will they stay or go: The Seahawks have several free agents, as they do every offseason, and one of the big questions facing the team in the coming months will be to decide which players return.
Linebacker Leroy Hill, for instance, just finished his fourth season with the team and has been a starter since his rookie year. Like Jones, Hill played in Seattle’s first 12 games, but sat out the last four with a shoulder injury.
“I’m expecting (free agency) to be fun,” Hill said. “It will be an experience for me. I just hope to be (back with the Seahawks), but if I’m not I’d love to thank Seattle. I loved playing in Seattle, and you know, we’ll see what happens.
“I do realize this is a business,” he went on. “And I do realize there’s a chance I might be here. And like I said, I’ll miss it if I’m not. But if I am, I’m going to come back as strong as ever next year and try to help this team reach our potential.”
If he does end up elsewhere, Hill would like to be with a Super Bowl contender.
“I want to win,” he said. “My (first) three years here we’ve been to the Super Bowl and the playoffs, so that’s all I know. I would love to go to a winning team. But I’d love to stay here, too, because I know our potential here.”
Checking his options: Seneca Wallace has been Seattle’s backup quarterback for six seasons, and he started eight games this season in place of the injured Hasselbeck.
At some point Wallace will want the chance to start full-time, whether it’s in Seattle or somewhere else.
“I really don’t know what is going to happen this offseason,” he said. “I just have to keep pushing forward and let everything else happen. I still have to prepare and get ready for next season.”
The desire to be a starter “is there,” he said, “but you’ve just got to handle it the right way. So you just keep preparing and doing the things that you do, but you can’t force the issue and say, ‘Hey, I want to go do this, I want to go do that.’ My mind and my focus is here with this team at this point in time.
“But once the opportunity shows itself to you, you have to make sure you take it,” he said.