Seahawks finally have glut of receivers after Branch, Engram return to action

RENTON, Wash. -- Deion Branch has an unusual plan for dealing with that first hit, that first physical -- and mental -- test of his reconstructed knee against the rugged New York Giants on Sunday.

Have his Seattle Seahawks teammates hit him first.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I'm going to have the guys do it," the wide receiver and former Super Bowl MVP said Monday, after fully participating in practice for the first time since tearing the ACL in his left knee January in a playoff loss at Green Bay.

"Yeah, I know, guys are going to be fighting over it once I go in and tell them, 'Hey, I want to take a couple of blows tomorrow," Branch said, laughing.

The Seahawks are feeling better about their situation at receiver.

It was a mess a few weeks ago. Seattle signed Koren Robinson and Billy McMullen and acquired Keary Colbert in a trade from Denver. That was after the Seahawks employed backup quarterback Seneca Wallace as an emergency receiver, until he pulled a calf muscle in warmups before a loss to San Francisco on Sept. 14.

Coach Mike Holmgren said Branch should make his season debut on Sunday when Seattle (1-2) faces the Giants (3-0) on the road. So will Bobby Engram, who set the team record with 94 catches last season but has been out for seven weeks with a broken right shoulder.

Robinson may also play. He missed the win over St. Louis on Sept. 21 with a sore knee but practiced on Monday.

The Seahawks have such depth at the position that Courtney Taylor, who started the opener at Buffalo three weeks ago, isn't even in their plans now.

"Right now we have an influx of guys, and we probably have too many. I never thought I would say that," Holmgren said with a chuckle, adding he may have to release one this week.

Holmgren said Branch must practice well this week to prove he can play, and even then the coach doesn't expect him to last the entire game. He is about six weeks ahead of the nine-month rehabilitation time commonly cited for reconstructive knee surgery.

But Branch, 29, said he is ready. He doesn't fear he is coming back too soon after being reassured by Dr. James Andrews, the noted specialist in Birmingham, Ala., who operated on the knee Feb. 7.

Branch said every route he has been running in workouts has tested the strength in his knee.

"I've taken the right amount of time," Branch said. "Dr. Andrews told me my leg was healed a long time ago, that it was now breaking through that mental part. I think I'm there."

Seattle will also get back starting right tackle Sean Locklear against the Giants' dynamic defensive front. Locklear sprained his knee in a preseason game on Aug. 16. Ray Willis has been starting and playing well there since, but Holmgren said he "suspects" Locklear will start Sunday. Locklear expects to, and he said he doesn't expect to alternate with Willis.

Running back Maurice Morris was also supposed to be back from a sprained knee. But he did not practice Monday and Holmgren said Morris is "a little behind" the progress of the others. Morris' delay isn't as concerning now that Julius Jones has had consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time since 2006 when he was with Dallas.

The injury situation isn't the only reason the Seahawks return from their bye better off than they were even two days ago. The other NFC West teams all lost Sunday, leaving Seattle just one-half game behind Arizona and the 49ers for the division lead.

"We loved the bye week. We should have more bye weeks," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who celebrated his 33rd birthday during the break.

"Mentally, it's just nice to take a load off, just sit on your couch and watch other quarterbacks get hit and get hurt. It's a good feeling knowing you can wake up on Monday and not feel like you were in a car wreck."