Engram returns from broken shoulder, but still unhappy about contract
RENTON, Wash. -- He's been waiting for eight weeks on the injured list.
Just ask the 35-year-old, who set a team record last season with 94 catches, if his 1-2 team knows his true value by not having him for two months.
"You would hope that you're appreciated before something like that has to take place," Engram said of his injury, his eyes growing wide over the thought Seattle hasn't gone beyond the $1.7 million he is earning this season.
It's not even the most or second most among Seahawks receivers. Deion Branch, who will also make his season debut on Sunday when Seattle (1-2) plays at the New York Giants (3-0), has a base pay of $3.5 million this year. Nate Burleson is making $3.25 million, but he's on injured reserve.
Then Engram shrugged his shoulders -- the healthy one, plus the right one he broke on Aug. 8.
"I don't know," he said.
With Matt Hasselbeck's most trusted receiver out, the Pro Bowl quarterback sank to the bottom of the NFL in completion percentage and passer rating. Coach Mike Holmgren's West Coast passing game became Woody Hayes-like: 3 yards and a cloud of synthetic turf.
No more. Engram is back. Jordan Babineaux made sure of that Wednesday.
As Engram blocked his teammate in practice, Babineaux playfully tapped Engram on the top of both sides of his extra-large shoulder pads and helmet. It was as if the defensive back was kicking the tires of a restored, vintage coupe.
"It's like riding a bike. I love this," Engram said. "That's why I'm still playing, 13 years later."
Holmgren calls him "the soul of our team."
Branch is back, too. Sunday, the former Super Bowl MVP will play his first game since injuring his left knee in January's playoffs. And Koren Robinson, Seattle's former No. 1 receiver reacquired last month when the Seahawks were desperate with six receivers hurt, is expected back to play the Giants after a sore knee kept him out of Seattle's win over the St. Louis Rams on Sept. 21 before its bye. Robinson was limited again by the knee in practice on Wednesday.
Now Holmgren can get back to more of the precise, short-passing game he prefers instead of relying upon Julius Jones, who has responded with his first back-to-back 100-yard rushing games since October 2006 when he was with the Dallas Cowboys.
And with Engram, Hasselbeck again has his security blanket on third downs. He knows when the Giants bring their blitzes, the slot receiver he implicitly trusts will be where he needs to be.
Hasselbeck is so close to Engram, the two coordinated their families' summer vacations so they could throw to each other at a resort area in Central Washington.
"Bobby just brings an experience and a calmness to our offense," Hasselbeck said.
Running back Maurice Morris, who may be the one injured Seahawk who doesn't return at New York because of a sprained knee, thinks the Giants' defense will have a far more difficult task than the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Rams did.
"Now that we've got our receivers back, teams don't know what to look for now," Morris said.
The Giants will likely be looking for Engram.
"I think teams have to account for me in the slot," he said. "I get doubled a lot, so that frees somebody else up."
And Holmgren isn't going to ease Engram back in with a bit role.
"I'm going to get him the ball. He's going to get his touches," Holmgren said. "Having Bobby in the game, for all of us, it's a feel-good thing. It's comforting."
They have the potential to spoil the returns of Engram and Branch.
"This is definitely, by far, the best secondary that we have played so far," Hasselbeck said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press