Seahawks' Branch to test reconstructed knee, may play Sunday

RENTON, Wash. -- Deion Branch had his knee reconstructed. Then came tedious, daily rehabilitation and aches of not being with his teammates.

Suddenly, he's pushing to see if he can play in the Seattle Seahawks' season opener Sunday -- seven months to the day he had the surgery that can take a year, or more, to overcome.

"It was refreshing, just to be back with the guys running around," Branch said Wednesday, cherishing a mini-milestone of catching passes out of a machine while in full pads for the first time since destroying the ACL in his left knee last January in a playoff loss at Green Bay.

Fighting through pain, doubt and frustration isn't the toughest thing Deion Branch has ever gone through. Not even close.

His son, Deiondre, a twin born premature at less than five pounds, contracted viral meningitis as an infant. Doctors told Branch his little boy would die in six months.

Deiondre is 7 years old now. The silent source of daily inspiration for the former Super Bowl MVP isn't able to talk or walk. He is able to make his Dad's eyes water and voice choke when Branch talks about him.

So this knee injury, which all of Seattle wants to end so Branch can return to save an ailing receiving corps, isn't such a huge deal to him.

"Yeah, he's going to have certain conditions the rest of his life. With the blessing of God he'll be able to walk one day, but he's not walking now," Branch said, with tears welling in his eyes. "He'll have certain conditions and such. He's doing good.

"That's my everything. That's my everything when I wake up. Thank God I'm able to do this, and I feel so helpless that my son can't do it. We complain about going out to practice when my son can't even do this. I can't complain about running 10 more extra 40s out there when my son can't even walk.

"This stuff is very minor. It's minor."

Branch is hosting a bowling event Sept. 9 in suburban Seattle to benefit to the Deion Branch Charitable Foundation, and specifically the treatment of meningitis.

He said whether he plays that other game, football, before then remains "up in the air."

Coach Mike Holmgren said Branch has not yet passed a physical to be cleared to play in a game, but that he will test his knee in practice before the team leaves for Buffalo Friday afternoon. If that goes well, he will play Sunday.

If not, Nate Burleson will be the only proven receiver to play against the Bills. Courtney Taylor, who has five career catches, will start opposite Burleson. Holmgren said backup quarterback Seneca Wallace is an option, too.

Bobby Engram is out until perhaps October with a broken shoulder after setting the team record with 94 receptions last season. Ben Obomanu went on injured reserve last weekend with a broken clavicle.

Branch, who has yet to fully realize the Seahawks' expectations when they traded a first-round pick to New England at the beginning of the 2006 season, called his a freak injury. It happened while running a routine route early in that playoff game against the Packers.

"The next big hurdle, I would say is up to him," Holmgren said. "With his ligament injury, it's been my experience with all the players I've had, particular at the wide receiver position ... they're nervous about it. They have to make cuts, and they have to do things that can tell them that they can do it.

"All of a sudden a defensive back engages him or he has to do something very quick -- he hasn't done that yet. ... He's going to have to tell us he feels good."

Branch wanted to take an even faster route back. He walked into the office of noted specialist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., last winter and asked him to put a cadaver ACL in his knee, because he heard the recovery time from that is quicker. Andrews told him he valued Branch too much to take that risk, that often bodies reject cadaver tendons within six months. Branch settled for the more conservative route of Andrews replacing the ACL with a patella tendon from Branch's knee.

Why rush back two months early from a surgery many believe takes a minimum of nine months to get over?

"I think I took the safer route, my surgery," he said. "It takes more time, but doctors find statistically this is a better way. So who knows if it's eight months? Like Dr. Andrews says, 'I can tell you when your knee is locked down, yeah. But I can't tell you when you can play football. That will be you.'"

Branch didn't sound convinced he'd be playing in Buffalo.

"There's a lot more work I've got to do. It's not just one thing -- it's pretty much everything," he said.

"I'm going to bounce back. I know I am. I'm going to be fine. I just have to make sure I do the right thing."