“What we felt last night is kind of the opposite of what actually happened today,” Holmgren said, when referring to the knees of tight end Itula Mili and guard Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack. “I thought Mili’s knee was a little more serious and “Chop” was going to be ok, and it’s flipped. Mili…how long he’s going to be out we don’t know yet, we’re going to have to wait on that a little bit. With “Chop”, they did an MRI, and found a little more damage. His injury will last longer, so that was too bad. I feel bad for him because he’s worked very hard. We will put Chris Spencer in the lineup for Porkchop, and we have not decided yet how we’re going to handle the tight end situation. Tim (Ruskell) and I will meet today to talk about that.”
Holmgren said that he wanted to “hold off right now” before disclosing how long either player will be out, but he also mentioned that Womack’s injury “could be a six-week type.” In the interim, the Seahawks will slide Chris Spencer, the team’s 2005 first-round draft pick, into Womack’s left guard slot, Spencer was drafted out of Ole Miss as a center, but he’s played guard as well. He’s not the huge bruiser that Womack is, but he’s agile enough to perhaps pick up a bit more on certain blocking schemes lost with the departure of Steve Hutchinson.
For Holmgren, preseason preparation paid off in this case when Spencer got some looks at guard as Womack recovered from a hamstring strain. “Because of what we did with Chris in the preseason, it allows us to do this. Also, you have (rookie) Rob Sims there who can play inside as well. We have a little depth in the offensive line which allows us to do this, and of course they got a lot of practice in the preseason.”
Spencer got his first regular-season look at his new position when Womack went out with that sprained knee. “He did okay for being thrown in there,” Holmgren said, when asked to assess Spencer’s progress. “It’s never the same as when you get the reps during the week in practice, but he’s active in there, he’s very athletic in there. I like the stuff he does, now with a week of practice under his belt he’ll be a little more sure of assignments and things like that, things we’re asking him to do.”
Mili’s injury hurts the Seahawks more from a depth perspective, because starting TE Jerramy Stevens is already out until October (“I’m hopeful that we get him back after the (October 8) bye,” Holmgren said) with the torn meniscus he suffered in his left knee in August. "The tight end situation, we have a young man, Leonard Stephens, on our practice squad who we like, but at the same time he’s very inexperienced," the coach said. "We’re bringing in tight ends and working out tight ends. Because now that the fact the Mili’s injury isn’t as serious as we thought, we have to reevaluate how we’re going to do that.”
Holmgren traveled mentally through his history as a coach with the great tight ends he’s coached from San Francisco to Green Bay to Seattle – as he said, experience at that position is an integral part of his system. “Because (Stevens) was able to stay healthy last year and played almost all year, and I think people notice the type of impact he had on our football team, it is a valuable position for us. We miss him not playing to be honest, but developing tight ends in your own system, we did that with Mark Chmura (in Green Bay). He came in and we drafted him late and he developed. Keith Jackson of course we got later in his career and he had already established himself. Actually how we go about doing it I’m not so concerned with it, but when we get a guy that can function in there, we’re a better offensive football team. There’s no question about that.”
What makes a great tight end? What are the qualities? For one thing, it depends on the quality of your backs, and how often you use them. Holmgren now uses the running game more than at any other time in his career. “I think in those (Green Bay) days…even though we had good running backs, we never had a Shaun Alexander. What we do here, we put a little higher premium I think on a man’s ability to block in the running game then we used to. In Brent’s (Jones) situation he was an outstanding pass receiver, converted wide receiver actually that played tight end. While he was a willing blocker, he wasn’t a big guy, but he was a great pass receiver. That combination worked for us at San Francisco and Green Bay.
“Chmura was a big, strong guy, who was a pretty good pass receiver for a guy who was as tough and big as he was. Keith Jackson maybe was the best pass receiver I’ve ever had, not the best blocker I’ve ever had however. The guys here, I think Jerramy has a nice combination, as does Mili. I think that’s changed a little bit. We’d like a guy to be a little stouter in the run game.”
Former Tampa Bay and Miami tight end Will Heller was signed in late March because of his size (6’6”, 265) and his ability to block more than his production - in his career, Heller has caught 15 passes for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns. There might be more of a place for Heller in a two-tight end situation, but his presence won’t stop Holmgren from combing the free agent list. “I think we know Will and what Will can do and what his strengths are. Who knows he might be thrust into a position where he has to get it done, or a little more responsibility will be laid on his shoulders. That happens all the time when you have an injury situation at a position.”
Of course, with as many receivers as the Seahawks are trying to get on the field these days, a two-tight end set seems a mathematical impossibility. Holmgren said that Deion Branch, the receiver acquired in the trade with the New England Patriots a week ago, will be activated against the New York Giants this Sunday – what part Branch, or anyone else, plays in the offense from here on out won’t be revealed until Holmgren has met with Team President Tim Ruskell. That meeting took place late Monday afternoon, with subsequent moves to be detailed later in the week.. “(Branch) will be ready to go,” Holmgren said. We will activate him for the Giants, that’s the plan right now anyway. Once we actually do that then we have some decisions to make. All those things will be talked about after our meeting.”
Holmgren did say that the coaching staff does have a role for Branch in the short term. “He’s going to be at the split end position. Right now, he and Nate (Burleson) are going to be splitting time at that position, and we’ve got to figure out how to practice (DJ) Hackett as well,” Holmgren said. “Darrell (Jackson) and Bobby (Engram) - their roles won’t change a great deal. It is a nice problem to have (too many receivers), but it will take some thought. I don’t want to give you percentages or anything like that because those are too easy to change, and sometimes how the game dictates it changes. We’re going to try and get them all on the field a good portion of the time.”
Holmgren has said that he was vacillating a bit about whether to activate Branch for the Arizona game because he looked so comfortable in the offense after only a few practices. In the end, he went with the receivers he had - a wise choice, as Darrell Jackson had a great day with 5 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown. How is Branch coming along now? “Every player is different. He is working as hard as any player that I’ve ever brought in at a later date. You can always with a wide receiver in the huddle call the play. I’ve done this before too, and I don’t think I’ll have to do it with Deion, but Matt could call the play and tell him what to do every single time. You could do that if you thought you had to. I don’t think you’re going to have to.
“He’s a veteran,” the coach continued. “He’s played. It’s not like a rookie coming in and all of a sudden everything is a lot larger than what he’s been asked to do in college. He comes from New England who throws the ball all over the place. He’s used to studying and preparing properly. I think we can do whatever we want to.”
Overall, Holmgren seemed happier about an offense that has started to click at home after an ugly debut in Detroit. With two monster defenses on the way when the Giants come to Qwest and the Seahawks travel to Chicago, the time for adjustments and grace periods is officially over. “I thought we improved over the opening weekend certainly, and we had a chance to really score some points I thought, more points than we scored. I was disappointed; we were a little bit sloppy, a little careless with the football. That was the biggest thing,” Holmgren said. “We haven’t done that in a while.
“Matt (Hasselbeck) threw a couple balls on interceptions that were uncharacteristic. His judgment has been very good lately, (so) I wasn’t too pleased with that. Neither was he. We dropped some passes. We hadn’t been doing that in a while. That is the thing that bothers me the most. I think we came out; we were much more aggressive against an aggressive defensive team. Our offensive line played a better football game, but now the guys that have touched the ball, the guys that we’re counting on to score touchdowns, we’ve got to do a better job there. When I told them, I said let’s try and fix the things we have control over. If you get beat physically or the guy across from you plays pretty good defense sometimes they win, but let's fix the things we can fix that are definitely within our control. That’s where we’re headed this week.”
Where the Giants are headed this week are back to the place they suffered their most frustrating loss of the 2005 regular season – New York outgained and seemingly outplayed the Seahawks on the Qwest Field turf last November 27, but sixteen penalties (eleven false starts caused by the rabid crowd) and three missed Jay Feely field goals kept Seattle alive long enough to take the 24-21 overtime victory. Coming off a miraculous comeback against the Philadelphia Eagles, this Giants team will be revved up and revenge-minded.
Holmgren knows what he’s in for. “Obviously they have great resources, and the will to win to be behind 24-7 in the fourth quarter and come back against a really fine football team in my opinion in Philadelphia. To come back and win that game, that is really something, you don’t see that happen too often. We know how good they are. They play in a tough division. We’ve got to get ready.”
The coach recalled the role that the “12th Man” played in the game – in fact, the league is aware of it as well. New NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is talking about implementing new helmet technology that will allow teammates to communicate in wild surroundings more easily, and you might as well call it the “12th Man Rule” if it happens. “Our fans will remember that game last year,” Holmgren said. “They will remember the part they played in that game, and I’m convinced they are going to be cranked up and ready to go again this Sunday. That’s the way it should be when you’re playing at home. I think it’s fun to come to one of our games now. They’re all hoarse today. They can hardly talk and that’s good.”
In the end, Holmgren’s not concerned with style points, or pundit appraisals, or power rankings – all he can concern himself with is what he sees between the lines. “I said early on that all sorts of stuff can be written and said about any team in the league. Along those lines, ‘you’re awful in the red zone and you can’t do it on third down’ or whatever it is. For any two-game stretch at any time in the history of football, you could create these stories and while they’re true it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the way it has to be the whole season. I expect an offensive improvement now over last week, just like I expected it over the first week.
“The same thing with our defense - we had our hands on the football two or three times where we should have had interceptions. I’m always going to be coaching to that, and regardless of how well one side or one group played, I think you still have to keep pounding away at them. I had forgotten that, but I remember it now about last year and we didn’t score in the second half, but we finished okay,” the coach said about his team’s 2-2 start in 2005. “We have some new people, a couple new faces, a little change in the dynamic perhaps, teams are raring to go when they play us. All that stuff factors into it.