Under Holmgren, Hasselbeck earns some recognition

Coach saw something in Seahawks QB when both were with Packers

November 22, 2003|By Greg Bishop | Greg Bishop,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SEATTLE - Mike Holmgren stopped practice in the middle, gathered the Green Bay Packers in a circle and then fumed and kicked his way to an important lesson.

Some defensive player had the nerve to level Brett Favre during a training camp drill in 1998, even though the quarterback wore a jersey colored red to mark himself off-limits. Holmgren's face matched the jersey's color immediately. It was lecture time, requiring a full-team address for the most cardinal of sins.

"I want to let everybody know that you don't come near the quarterback," Holmgren said. "You don't come near Brett Favre. It's not that I don't have faith in Doug Pederson or David Klingler or, um, well, uh, that other guy over there."

The "other guy over there" couldn't help but laugh when recalling the story this past week. At that point, Matt Hasselbeck was just another rookie struggling to make his way on an NFL roster.

Five seasons later, he's trying to lead another Holmgren team, the upstart Seattle Seahawks, into the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The Seahawks play the Ravens tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium.

The two have come a long way since Hasselbeck's rookie season. Holmgren staked a good portion of his betting chips on his current starter in 2001, trading a first- and third-round draft pick for Hasselbeck and a first-round pick, which the Seahawks used to draft budding guard Steve Hutchinson.

In retrospect, the trade leans heavily in the Seahawks' favor. Hutchinson could be headed to his first Pro Bowl. Seattle is off to a 7-3 start this season, its best since beginning 8-2 in 1999. And Hasselbeck ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in three major categories: passer rating (87.4, seventh), passing yards (2,222, 10th) and touchdown passes (14, eighth).

But as recently as last season, when Hasselbeck backed up Trent Dilfer before the former Raven sustained a season-ending Achilles' injury, it didn't look that way.

"When I was traded here, I was a quarterback who hadn't played very much," Hasselbeck said. "To be coached by Mike Holmgren was probably the most attractive thing about this opportunity. Just look at his track record and what he's been able to do with quarterbacks."

Holmgren was a quarterback himself, as far back as 1965 at Lincoln High School in San Francisco, where he was named Prep Athlete of the Year. He coached quarterbacks at San Francisco before attaining the Packers' head coaching job, stamping his mark as a quarterback guru on two places that have produced their fair share of greats at the position.

He saw something in Favre's backup that others didn't. Hasselbeck threw 29 passes in two years at Green Bay, came to the Seahawks in 2001 and started immediately. The growing pains were evident at first but were gone by the end of last season, when the Seahawks finished the last six games with more yards than any other team in the NFL.

"Part of the reason our offense works so well is because of how they get along," wide receiver Koren Robinson said of Holmgren and Hasselbeck. "They're both just characters. I'm laughing at both of them all day."

If there's one place the Seahawks' offense has struggled this season, it's on the road. Seattle is 6-0 at home, its best home start since 1984. With victories over Cleveland and Arizona, the Seahawks can finish undefeated at home for the first time in team history.

But road games have been Rocky, to say the least. The Seahawks are 1-3 away from Seahawks Stadium, and they are facing a Ravens defense among the toughest they've seen this season in a game Holmgren calls "big for a lot of reasons."

The Seahawks remember the six-game tear they ended last season with on offense. They also know that it came with the playoffs far out of reach. But Holmgren opened up the offense last week in hope of scoring faster, and players say they can sense everything coming together.

As for Hasselbeck, he's starting to feel comfortable. Asked how long it took him to fully grasp the system, Hasselbeck laughed.

"I don't feel like I've fully grasped it," he said. "I've just gotten better at it. It's a work in progress. I don't know where the end of the road is, but I would say that I'm 200 percent better than when I started. A lot of that is due to Coach."

Next for Ravens

Matchup:Seattle Seahawks (7-3) vs. Ravens (5-5)

Site:M&T Bank Stadium

When:Tomorrow, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Ravens by 3

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