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In more than 20 years as an NFL coach, Mike Holmgren has rarely had to concern himself with poor quarterback play. Matt Hasselbeck will try to make sure his mentor’s last season won’t be any different.
Some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history have been tutored by Holmgren, beginning with Joe Montana and Steve Young when he was an assistant with San Francisco from 1986-1991. When he became head coach with Green Bay in 1992, Holmgren’s quarterback was first-year starter Brett Favre.
With Seattle, Holmgren has had another quality quarterback in Hasselbeck. But in Holmgren’s 17th and final year as an NFL head coach, there are concerns over Hasselbeck’s health.
In January, Holmgren agreed to honor only the final year of his contract and then leave a profession in which he has led Green Bay to two Super Bowls and Seattle to a third, winning one title. He likely won’t have a chance to reach another championship game if Hasselbeck’s back doesn’t hold up.
The Pro Bowl quarterback on Monday participated in just his second full practice since the injury occurred nearly a month ago in a short workout. Hasselbeck said he’s ready to face the Bills despite playing just two series this preseason.
“I think I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m probably not 100 percent in shape. That’s what this week’s for. … I’m ready to go.”
Hasselbeck had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his non-throwing shoulder following the 2006 season, and he was limited in the 2007 preseason. He went on to set team records for completions (352), attempts (562) and yards passing (3,966) to earn a third Pro Bowl appearance.
Hasselbeck helped Seattle go 10-6 last season before losing to Green Bay in the divisional playoffs. A victory over Buffalo would give Holmgren his 171st win, which would tie him with Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs for 10th on the all-time list.
If Hasselbeck can stay healthy, the Seahawks appear to have an excellent chance to reach the postseason for the sixth straight year, the longest such run of any NFC team.
“So I believe we have a good football team,” Holmgren said. “And now, it’s up to all of us to really work very, very hard and do the best job we can do as coaches and players.”
There are other injury concerns on offense, however, with the Seahawks’ receiving corps in flux. Leading returning receiver Bobby Engram is out indefinitely with a broken shoulder, and Ben Obomanu is out for the year because of a broken collarbone. Deion Branch also won’t play this week after trying to get back for the opener just seven months after major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
Seattle will also have a new starter at running back after releasing Shaun Alexander, the team’s career rushing leader with 9,429 yards. Alexander battled injuries the past two seasons, so the Seahawks signed T.J. Duckett and Julius Jones in the offseason.
On defense, the Seahawks appear strong with defensive end Patrick Kerney coming off a 14 1/2-sack season, Marcus Trufant having blossomed into a top-tier cornerback and Lofa Tatupu anchoring the linebackers. That group will be facing a Bills offense ready to go with Trent Edwards as its full-time starter.
Edwards won the job ahead of J.P. Losman midway through last year, but Buffalo finished 7-9 and had a dreadful year on offense. The Bills finished 30th in the NFL in yards gained (277.1 per game), and their 20 non-special team touchdowns were the fewest during a 16-game season in franchise history.
This year, Buffalo heads into the season with a first-time coordinator in Turk Schonert and standout left tackle Jason Peters holding out. The Bills, though, have high hopes for Edwards now that he’s entrenched as the starter. Marshawn Lynch gives them a dynamic threat in the backfield, and they drafted wide receiver James Hardy in the second round to draw attention from Lee Evans.
“I’ll say this, the offense has a lot to prove and that, in particular, starts at the quarterback position,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of expectations, a lot of work that has gone into this season, and it will all show on Sunday.”
Edwards went 5-5 as a starter last season, throwing seven touchdowns while being picked off eight times, but also showed promise and great poise for a rookie.
Getting the running game going will help Edwards’ development.
Lynch will be trying to build off of a year in which he had 1,115 yards rushing and scored a team-high seven touchdowns while finishing fifth in the AFC with 85.8 yards rushing per game despite missing three contests due to a sprained left ankle.
Buffalo, hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999, will be relying on a revamped defense. The Bills bolstered their defense by adding tackle Marcus Stroud, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.
“This is it. This is as high of an expectation as I’ve been around,” defensive end Chris Kelsay said. “Everything looks good on paper. Now we just have to prove it on the field.”
This will be the first meeting between Seattle and Buffalo since Nov. 28, 2004, when the Bills won on the road 38-9.