KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Observations from Seahawks camp:
1. If there's a concern I have here, it's with the wide receivers. Where's the guy who's going to stretch the defense? Bobby Engram is back, and he had 94 catches last season, but he doesn't shred defenses. Nate Burleson is a possibility. Then there's Deion Branch, recovering from knee surgery. The club says he's on schedule to return for the season opener, but stay tuned. Branch hasn't done much in the two years here, with four touchdowns in each season. That must change. Or someone else must emerge, and the candidates aren't exactly household names: Courtney Taylor, Logan Payne, Jordan Kent and Ben Obomanu. "I understand the criticism, and it's fair," said president of football operations and GM Tim Ruskell, "because we have some ifs about the people coming back, and most of the group hasn't proven itself. But we feel good about them, and at some point they have to get their shot. This preseason will be very important." Matt Hasselbeck isn't buying into any of that. In fact, he's so comfortable with the wide receivers he has here that he said, "I would take my group over anyone else's." Honest. "We have some guys who are underappreciated, like a Bobby Engram," he said. "The guy can flat-out play football. Nate Burleson is someone whom people talk about as a return guy, but if I can just get the ball into his hands, he's great. Then there's Deion. We just have to get him healthy."
2. One of the most intriguing competitions is at kicker where the Seahawks try to replace Josh Brown, who nailed 82 percent of his field goals last season -- including 3 of 5 from 50 yards and beyond. The frontrunner is 35-year-old Olindo Mare, who has been accurate and still has a surprisingly strong leg. He'll be pushed by rookie Brandon Coutu, who hit a 56-yard field goal in Saturday's scrimmage, but the smart money is on the experience here. Barring a collapse, Mare should wind up with the job.
3. Add the Seahawks to the list of clubs missing key offensive linemen. Center Chris Spencer suffered a strained back the day before camp opened and hasn't practiced once. Backup Chris Gray is out with a bad back, too, which means your starting center, Seattle fans -- at least for the time being -- is second-year pro Steve Vallos, who spent all of last season on the Seahawks practice squad.
4. Tight end John Carlson is in the right place at the right time. For years, the Seahawks looked for a tight end with reliable hands, and they seem to have found him. Watching the club practice Friday was to watch Carlson snag virtually everything thrown in his direction. Now I know why the team traded up in the second round to draft him. "I'm hard on tight ends," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We ask them to do a lot of things, but he's a tremendous kid, a very good player and really solid. He should be really good for a long time." Look for the Seahawks to start Will Heller in their preseason opener at Minnesota, but look for Carlson to open the season at the position. Yes, he's that good. "We didn't draft John to watch," said Holmgren. "He's got two weeks to absorb it all."
5. There is no area where the Seahawks are deeper or stronger than the secondary. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings are rock solid, and safeties Brian Russell and Deon Grant don't surrender the stupid play. That wasn't the case in 2006 when the Seahawks were burned over and over on deep passes. So the club rearranged the secondary -- with Trufant switching sides, Jennings stepping in and two new safeties taking over -- and hired Jim Mora to oversee the group. Result: Seattle last season allowed the fewest touchdowns passing (15) of anyone in the league, and Mora was tapped as the club's next head coach. Yeah, I'd say the change worked.