Hawks need Branch to perform early

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Seahawks receiver Deion Branch has been ahead of schedule in recovering from reconstructive knee surgery this offseason. The team has become increasingly hopeful that Branch might be back in time for the regular-season opener. Getting him back soon has become additionally important now that Bobby Engram could miss the first two or three games of the regular season.

The Seahawks have never kept more than seven receivers on their opening day roster since Mike Holmgren arrived as head coach, and probably much longer. Carrying an idled Engram becomes less painful if Branch is healthy. But if Engram is out and Branch is hurting, the Seahawks will need to develop some of their young receivers on the fly.

Ben Obomanu appears ready to help in games. Logan Payne could fall into the same category if his rib injury allows. Jordan Kent has come on strong lately. Courtney Taylor still has a chance to show. The talent is there. Even Michael Bumpus, Trent Shelton and Joel Filani had their moments in the exhibition opener. None of them comes close to Engram in terms of overall value to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the offense, but Seattle could be OK if one or more emerges over the short term.

We might also expect tight end John Carlson to get a few more chances in the passing game. Hasselbeck seems to be building a rapport with him.

I'll revisit and the "wide receivers" section of our Seahawks roster analysis below.

Wide receivers (11)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.2
Locks: Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson
Looking safe
: Logan Payne, Courtney Taylor, Ben Obomanu
On the bubble: Jordan Kent
Also: Joel Filani, Michael Bumpus, Trent Shelton, Bryan Gilmore
What we said then: Seattle might be wise to keep six while Branch works his way back from knee surgery. Obomanu is gaining momentum.
What we say now: Might be time to wrap Burleson in bubblewrap as a precaution.