This is a brainstorm list of ideas how Seattle can cope with the loss of Bobby Engram. Egnram can't be placed on the PUP list and therefore counts as a "dead" man until he is able to return. That, obviously, is a bit of a kick in the teeth.
PUP List Deion Branch
Branch could return at the start of the season. It's not likely, but the notion is swirling, so it must be accounted for. With Engram out, it is now that much more important that Seattle prudently places Branch on the PUP list. That might sound counterintuitive. Branch is, after all, a wide receiver on a team in need. But two things must be considered.
First, Seattle is not in a position where they have gross wide receiver needs. Seattle has net wide receiver needs. They don't need wide receivers on the roster, they need wide receivers that can play and contribute. If Branch rushes his recovery, he might reinjure himself. An injured Branch is a second dead player. Better then to put Branch on the PUP list and activate him later in the season, when he has a better chance to maintain health and a better chance to contribute.
Second, going forward, Seattle shouldn't count on contributions from Engram or Branch. For the entirety of the 2008 season, Branch will be less than a year removed from surgery. Even if he can meet the minimum requirements to take the field, that does not guarantee effectiveness. Branch should not be counted on to contribute this season. Engram, 35, has already suffered the first of what could be a slew of career ending injuries. Engram should not be counted on to contribute this season.
Free up a roster spot and give Branch the best chance of maintaining health by placing him on the PUP list.
Take a Hard, Merciless Look at Logan Payne
Without an accrued season in the NFL, and only one season on the practice squad, Payne should be eligible for a second tour of duty. But that same spot could go to Michael Bumpus. Does Seattle take up a quarter of its practice squad with wide receivers? And how then do you fill out the other six spots? Certainly depth at offensive line is a must. Depth at defensive line and in the secondary is always wise. How about Brandon Coutu should Seattle think Olindo Mare their best bet this season? Retaining Joe Newton could allow for Seattle to keep only two tight ends on roster. Justin Forsett must be retained somehow. It might be that Seattle must sincerely consider what they have with Logan Payne and if his potential is worth retaining. He's not a contributor on special teams. And his value was always weighted more towards producing now than potential. If Payne can't earn his spot in the preseason, it might be best to cut him or place him on IR.
Start Ben Obomanu at Slot, Sub with Bumpus
As is, Courtney Taylor is likely to play flanker. Among Seattle's remaining wide receivers, Obomanu, Payne and Bumpus are best suited for Engram's slot duties. Accounting for skill set, performance, health and experience, that should read Obomanu, Bumpus and then Payne. Obo should play with the first team offense. He's not really like Engram, not surgical carving zones, not steady converting receptions, but he does have the minimum skills needed with some nice addendums: speed, agility and big play ability. Bumpus offers Seattle its best shot of Engram 2. He has good hands and an ability to read zones, and though Bumpus isn't fast, it's reasonable to think he's at least on par with the contemporary Bobby Engram. Put it to the test. Throw both into the fire and see who survives. Give each a half of strictly slot play. If Bumpus plays well in the second half, see if he can do it with the first unit. If Payne can take the field, throw him right out there with the first unit and see if he survives. The key is, audition the three strictly playing the slot. Without Bobby, the luxury of open tryouts is lost. Someone on this team must be able to produce now, and it's best that's decided in the preseason.
Rework your Base Offense
On Friday, Seattle employed 3 wide on 33 plays, mostly in both 3 WR, I and 3WR, TE, RB. Seattle relied heavily on those formations last season, in its pass first offense. A healthy and productive Bobby Engram, an old and regularly spelled tight end and a non-existent run game forced the move. Well, things have changed, and what were once weaknesses are now strengths and what were once strengths are now weaknesses. Depending on what Taylor shows and how Obo develops, John Carlson is Seattle's second to fourth best receiver. Theoretically, 2 WR, TE, I is the formation Mike Holmgren prefers. He maximized it in 2005, deftly exploiting its balanced qualities, and riding it to career seasons by Jerramy Stevens, Joe Jurevicius and Shaun Alexander. It's time to dust off the old playbook, because the talent is again better suited to Holmgren's former, more structurally conservative formation.
Entertain Signing a Veteran
It's clear Tim Ruskell believes in continuity. Continuity of talent. Continuity of evaluation. And continuity of leadership. That's one reason Seattle hasn't been involved in many rent a player contracts and why potentially helpful additions like Terry Glenn and Eric Parker have been ignored. But now is not the time for rigidity. Seattle's young corps has earned some respect, but should they flub or Taylor's hamstring (etc.) flare up, it would be foolish not to consider adding a hired gun; another option to the mix to keep Seattle from making any rash moves (like rushing Branch) or being hamstrung by a particularly underperforming unit. A mid priced free agent helps Seattle win now without mortgaging the future.