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News » Holmgren still hard at work in Seattle swan song

Holmgren still hard at work in Seattle swan song

Holmgren still hard at work in Seattle swan song
SEATTLE - It was the final afternoon of two-a-days and practice supposedly was over. Half the players had walked past me at the Seahawks' new $75 million playground, with maybe the league's best indoor facility, and while I was exchanging hellos with the future head coach, Jim Mora, more than 100 yards away Mike Holmgren was still coaching.

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Holmgren had his offense repeating a basic screen pass. You could see the offensive line pulling, the back waiting and Charlie Frye throwing at the right time with the proper pace. Holmgren kept yelling as they ran the same play again and again.

Known as the game's finest 9-to-5 coach, Holmgren is supposed to have that lame-duck attitude. He should be rushing home to his wife Kathy and all those grandchildren. Seattle's brain trust never thought he would want to return this season, knowing his replacement was in place, but Holmgren had other ideas. He even pricked them a bit when asking for a contract extension, knowing it would be rejected.

"I'm just looking at (this season) as my last year here," Holmgren said from his not-too-fancy office. "My head isn't thinking like I'm going to get fired if I lose. I really don't anticipate having any problems, either. Jim is going to be respectful of me, and I don't sense were going to have any rough patches during the season. I have spoken to the team about it. I honestly feel good about it and want to do it. You don't know how good it's made me feel to have some players come up to me and tell me, 'Coach, we want to make this your best season.' "

Although I didn't know how to interpret Holmgren's post-practice screen pass work, the word is that he's been coaching like this all summer. He's the old taskmaster again; he's not walking away from the game he loves with his head down and feeling sorry for himself. Yes, he's earning almost $8 million, but he's always been at the top of the salary ladder.

Starter Matt Hasselbeck, who has been resting a very tight back, hasn't noticed any changes, either.

"He's never happy unless the practice is perfect," the quarterback said.

Because of his back, Hasselbeck will miss his second straight preseason game Monday night in San Diego.

Holmgren just turned 60 and everyone has him headed to San Francisco, where he's building another home, because the speculation is fierce that Mike Nolan is a goner if he has another losing season. But not so fast. Holmgren sounds like he may want to take a season off and just relax.

"I do know I plan to go to Phoenix after the season with Kathy and take some time," he said. "We have a home there that we've never used much."

There are no indications that Holmgren is really finished with coaching. Plus, he's always mentioned that he'd like to try being a general manager again. His good friend, Eddie DeBartolo, is looking for a NFL team to buy. Who knows what can happen in the future?

Meanwhile, Holmgren and the Seahawks go for their fifth consecutive NFC West championship, a streak that was old hat when he was the offensive coordinator with the 49ers and hanging with Joe Montana. However, there have to be concerns that the Seahawks' offense may lack the typical Holmgren precision because Hasselbeck has been sitting and when he has been practicing his two best receivers, Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, haven't been around. Both are rehabbing injuries.

"It's going to be harder for us, but it is what it is," Hasselbeck said. "I'm figuring I'm starting the season without both of them. And even if they do come around in September, how sharp are they going to be having missed so much time? This happened to us (in 2005) when we went to the Super Bowl. I didn't have Darrell Jackson for much of the season, but guys like Joe Jurevicius and Jerramy Stevens stepped up."

Because of the injuries, the Seahawks may have to keep an extra receiver or two on the final 53-man roster because Engram's shoulder may not be ready until October.So, the opening-day starters could be Nate Burleson and Courtney Taylor with Ben Obomanu. One promising addition has been rookie tight end John Carlson. Holmgren's offense likes to feature a tight end if the guy can catch and stretch the field.

"We've struggled at that position in recent years and Engram has run a lot of tight-end routes," Hasselbeck said.

A major face kicked to the curb by GM Tim Ruskell was former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander. Alexander was always a tough player to read, and the Seahawks seem to believe that once they gave him the huge contract that he put his career into second gear. This happens in the NFL, and it is always scary when it's your No. 1 running back.

To fill the void, Ruskell gave big money to Julius Jones, who was second fiddle to Marion Barber in Dallas, and T.J. Duckett, a big back that Mora employed when he coached in Atlanta. As it stands, Duckett might be a $4-million bust unless they trade or dump fullback Leonard Weaver.

"Weave is so good, I think he could be a starting tailback for another team," Hasselbeck said. "He's not the kind of fullback when Mack Strong was here."

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There is no question that Jones and Maurice Morris, who figures to be Alexander's replacement, will rotate at tailback. That decision makes total sense. The wild card is rookie mighty mite Justin Forsett, who has been very productive in preseason games and training camp. As Holmgren likes to say, Forsett's play is screaming at him to "find him a spot on the roster."

Finally, the offensive line lost another veteran with the retirement of Chris Gray while center Chris Spencer and right tackle Sean Locklear (another back) haven't practiced much. The great thing, though, is that Mike Solari, one of the game's finest offensive line coaches, was hired and former Packer guard Mike Wahle, who grew up in nearby Bellevue, was signed as a free agent. Even with the injuries, Solari figures to make the offensive line click.

At the moment, there are fewer questions on Seattle's defense. Patrick Kerney is back, and Lofa Tatupu is one of the game's quickest and stoutest linebackers. Seattle's front seven is one of the fastest groups in the league. USC rookie and first-round pick Lawrence Jackson will start at right end ahead of Darryl Tapp. Mora coaches a quality and deep secondary where cornerback Marcus Trufant has emerged as one of the very best.

The bottom line is that it is difficult picking against Holmgren having one last great hurrah with the Seahawks. I mean, have you seen Matt Leinart playing lately? Fans want to say this will be Arizona's year in the NFC West, but quarterback could be the Cardinals' undoing.

"I think our division has been getting better and we have been chipping away at some of our old talent," Hasselbeck said. "But we have a great home-field advantage here because I know how tough it is for team to travel here."

Like Jimmy Johnson always says, Seattle is just south of Alaska.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 27, 2008

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