Former Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh has a new $40 million free-agent contract and Deion Branch has a Super Bowl MVP trophy, but the wideout to watch in the Northwest may be Nate Burleson. Seattle's seventh-year pro is having a sensational camp, showing no lingering effects from reconstructive knee surgery that cost him all but one game of 2008. Seahawks wideouts were ravaged by injuries last season; rookie tight end John Carlson wound up leading the team in catches, with 55. Now, if Burleson is healthy, he, Houshmandzadeh and Branch could give Matt Hasselbeck the best receiving corps he's ever had—one good enough to match that of the division-rival Cardinals.
"I feel good," says Burleson, who was second on the Seahawks with 50 receptions in 2007. "If I'm considered the third piece of the puzzle in the receiving corps, that's fine with me. But I know one thing: When I touch the ball, I'm looking at the end zone. And I'm going to get in there quite a bit this year."
He thought the same thing last year after putting himself through a rigorous off-season program. In the season opener in Buffalo he had five receptions for 60 yards, including a 20-yard TD, by early in the third quarter. Then he slipped on the slick turf while making a cut, tearing his left ACL.
"It was a long journey from there," Burleson says, "a lot of self-discovery and long nights by myself while rehabbing in Alabama. It was the most difficult thing I've ever had to deal with athletically. When you have a torn ligament, it's almost like a career near-death experience."
Burleson regained his mojo while working out in Phoenix the month before camp. He tossed away the knee brace that was a constant reminder of the injury and pushed himself to see if he could be the old Nate. With each completed practice his confidence soared. So have Seattle's prospects.
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