Tight end Jerramy Stevens, who has missed Seattle's first five games while recovering from a pair of offseason surgeries to his left knee, will make his 2006 debut Sunday when the Seahawks host the Minnesota Vikings.
The five-year veteran was able to practice all week without incident and, while his snaps will be closely monitored and perhaps limited to about 30, the Seahawks feel the return of Stevens will boost a passing game that at times has been out of synch in 2006.
"He definitely gives us a dimension we haven't had to this point," acknowledged quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. "It'll be good to get him back in there."
Coming off the best season of his career in 2005, when he established career highs in receptions (45), yards (554) and touchdowns (five), Stevens underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in April to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. The Seahawks held him out of the start of training camp but, on the third day after he returned to practice, Stevens damaged the meniscus cartilage again, requiring mid-August surgery.
It appeared that Stevens was set to return last week, when the Seahawks played St. Louis, but he informed coach Mike Holmgren the night before the game that he was experiencing discomfort in the knee, so he was inactive for the contest. Early this week, doctors drained fluid from a small cyst that developed behind the left kneecap, and the procedure permitted Stevens to practice without pain.
"I think he's going to be fine," Holmgren said. "We'll ease him into it a little bit."
Because of his size (6-foot-7, 260 pounds) and speed, Stevens provides a huge target, is a receiver who can get deep up the seams, and controls the middle of the field, between the hashes. He still tends to be inconsistent at times as a receiver, but without him in the lineup, opposition secondaries typically don't have to worry about a tight end getting deep on them.
Eight-year veteran Itula Mili has filled in for Stevens in the first five games, but he is more an intermediate receiver, and has only seven catches for 57 yards. With Stevens out of the lineup, the Seahawks have started in a three-wide receiver formation in four of their five games.
Having Stevens on the field not only gives Hasselbeck another playmaker, it balances the Seahawks from a formation standpoint, and makes the offense less predictable.
The Seahawks' first-round choice in the 2002 draft, Stevens has 108 career receptions for 1,227 yards and 11 touchdowns. The former University of Washington star has played in 60 games, but Sunday will mark his first appearance since Super Bowl XL, more than eight months ago.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.