RENTON — Although his activity was limited, just having Chris Spencer in uniform and on the practice field Monday brought a hint of a smile to the usually stern facade of Seattle Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren.
Now the 6-foot-3, 312-pound center has to get healthy enough to play.
“He didn’t do much, but it’s nice to have him back,” Holmgren said. “He’s improved, so that’s encouraging.”
Spencer had been unable to practice since the opening of training camp because of a lower back injury. But after changing his treatment a week ago, Spencer said his back strengthened enough that he could return to the field Monday morning, the team’s first full day of practice at its new practice facility in Renton.
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Spencer is in the fourth season of a five-year, $7.5 million deal he signed as a rookie. He started all 16 games last season at center, and has started in 28 straight games at center, including the playoffs, for the Seahawks.
Spencer said he played through pain last season. He had offseason surgery to repair both shoulders and the thumb on his snapping hand (right).
Spencer suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder before the 2007 season started. He said he snapped with his right hand and then initiated contact with his right shoulder because of the injury to his left shoulder.
“It was kind of one of those things where mentally I had to push through it,” Spencer said about being banged up in 2007. “After the first game it really settled in for me that I had to bear down and get things done with one arm.”
Spencer’s absence was felt more strongly because second-string center Chris Gray retired during training camp because of a career-ending back injury. But with Spencer out, Steve Vallos stepped in and was a solid player in the first two exhibitions.
“It’s obviously not an ideal situation to lose your first stringer and second stringer,” Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I think we have worked hard in making it a non-factor. At least for me when I played in the Minnesota game it was a non-factor.”
However, Spencer’s return should bolster an offensive line that suffered another setback when right tackle Sean Locklear sprained a ligament in his left knee.
He is expected to miss the rest of the preseason and perhaps Seattle’s regular-season opener in Buffalo. Ray Willis replaced Locklear at right tackle in practice.
Spencer said he’s hopeful he’ll be ready for the Buffalo game, but wants to make sure he doesn’t do too much too soon.
“I don’t feel that I’m that far behind because I’ve been in the film room watching what he’s teaching these guys,” Spencer said about working his way back into the lineup. “The film studying is really helping out a lot. So it’s just all about knocking off the rust right now and getting going. I don’t think it’s going to take me long at all.”
HASSELBECK READY TO GO
After sitting out most of last week with a sore back and not playing in the exhibition game against Chicago, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck participated in all drills Monday and said he’s ready to play. Hasselbeck said he doesn’t know how much time he’ll play against San Diego on Monday, but typically starters play at least a half in the third exhibition.
“I felt fine,” Hasselbeck said. “If I felt stiff it’s because I was standing around too much the last couple days.”
Added coach Mike Holmgren: “He’s feeling pretty good. He gave me the thumbs up today. So if he doesn’t do anything, he’ll play.”
Holmgren: game “sloppy”: After he had an opportunity to watch tape of his team’s 29-26 overtime win over Chicago, Holmgren had a much different view of his team’s performance — and it wasn’t good.
“I feel worse than I did right after the game,” Holmgren said. “We played a horribly sloppy game. Horribly sloppy. We gained 500 yards against 200 yards, and then overtime? How does that compute? Well, it computes because we had six turnovers, 12 penalties, a couple blocked punts. It was horrible. And I won’t stand for it from the coaches or the players. We’ve got to get cranking. It was too much playground the other night.”
Holmgren softened on the performance of third-string quarterback Charlie Frye.
“Right after the game, I was not happy with Charlie,” he said. “Then I looked at the film and Charlie got hit a lot in that game. And that, coupled with the fact that it’s his first start for us and there’s a lot of new stuff we’ve thrown at him.
“Charlie is a tough guy. And there’s some things there that he can’t do. And he probably won’t do them again, and he’ll learn from that. But I was actually proud of the fact that he hung in there because he got hit too much in the game. I was not happy about that.”
The beauty of VMAC: In the team’s first full practice at its new practice facility, the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, rain forced the Seahawks to move the morning practice indoors. No problem. The team quickly headed down a corridor and into an 89,000 square-foot facility with a full-length football field, part of the sparkling new facility on the banks of Lake Washington that cost an estimated $60 million. “It’s nice,” Holmgren said “That’s the beauty of this place, it really is. I don’t think we could’ve blown up the bubble that fast in Kirkland. It’s great that way. I wish we had practiced a little better but it feels nice.”