Wounded given time to heal with week off

KIRKLAND — A week away from football provided the Seattle Seahawks with a little rest, relaxation and one more “R” that might be the key to their stretch run: Rejuvenation.

The bye weekend, combined with the five days off coach Mike Holmgren gave his players last week, gave several starters a chance to heal up.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been nursing a strained oblique muscle that flared up in the win over St. Louis eight days ago. Running back Shaun Alexander has been playing with a cracked bone in his wrist since Week 1. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard has been fighting a sore groin, and tight end Marcus Pollard was scheduled to undergo a scope last week to determine the severity of his knee soreness.

But the time off may have been most important at the receiver position, where starters D.J. Hackett (missed six games with a high ankle sprain) and Deion Branch (two games with a sprained foot) are expected to return to the lineup.

“They’re both good football players, and you need your football players, you need your best guys,” Holmgren said last week before heading out of town for a few days of in-season vacation. “It will be nice to have them back.”

Seattle’s receiving corps hasn’t been sitting around pining for Hackett and Branch. Veteran Bobby Engram stepped into the lineup two weeks ago and has caught 15 passes for 193 yards in back-to-back games. Nate Burleson has filled in for Hackett as starting split end since Week 2 and has caught 18 passes in that time.

Second-year player Ben Obomanu and rookie Courtney Taylor, former Auburn teammates, have also filled in admirably. And backup quarterback Seneca Wallace has seen time at receiver in each of the Seahawks’ past four games.

“Having Deion and Hackett back will be big,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said last Monday. “Those guys that have filled in did a nice job, but there is a learning curve when you’re first starting out playing any position.

“Having more depth and that kind of thing, that will help us.”

Branch was having one of his best seasons before the injury. His 20 receptions through the first four games put him on pace for a career-high 80 catches. But he sprained his foot in the first half of a Week 5 loss to Pittsburgh and has been sidelined ever since.

Hackett didn’t get much time to get into a rhythm this season. After holding off Burleson for the starting job in the preseason, Hackett caught one pass in the opener before suffering a high ankle sprain, which is an injury that occurs when the foot gets caught on the turf and causes the ankle to turn to the outside. He returned to practice the week of the St. Louis game but did not suit up.

The players are expected to be back at the practice facility today for meetings and conditioning. Tuesday is the weekly off day, and then full practices will resume on Wednesday.

The Seahawks (4-3) play at Cleveland (4-3) this weekend. The Browns beat St. Louis 27-20 on Sunday.

Notes: Among the intriguing storylines for Sunday’s game is the return of former Browns quarterback Charlie Frye, who started the regular-season opener for Cleveland but got traded to Seattle two days later. The Ohio native is the Seahawks’ No. 3 quarterback and probably won’t play in the game. … Under Holmgren, the Seahawks are 2-6 in games that immediately follow a bye. Seattle has won its past two, including a win over the Rams last season.

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