Veteran receiver signed as free agent with Seattle after three straight seasons with at least 90 receptions.
RENTON — T.J. Houshmandzadeh has caught more passes than anyone in the NFL over the past four seasons.
He also grabbed more attention than anyone when Seattle opened its practice to spectators on the fourth day of training camp as fans quickly discovered their new receiver’s 14-letter last name can be conveniently shortened to a single syllable.
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The nickname caught on quickly Monday morning among the 1,500 fans attending the first of the 12 open practices at Seahawks headquarters. Fans shouted it after every pass caught by the marquee free agent Seattle signed in March.
It’s the sound of hope after a season in which Seattle’s wide receiving corps was reduced to bare bones and torn knee ligaments after the first two games. Things got so bad at receiver that rookie tight end John Carlson led Seattle in catches. Enter Houshmandzadeh, who caught 90 or more passes in each of the past three seasons. His plans for this season are just as ambitious.
“I have big expectations for myself,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I don’t have set numbers or anything like that.
“I feel like this should be my best season as far as yards and touchdowns, give or take one or two.”
He’s fighting the tide of history for free-agent wide receivers, who’ve found that it takes some time to adapt to a new team. Here’s the list of free-agent receivers who caught 70 or more passes with their new team last season: Antonio Bryant in Tampa Bay. That’s it.
In the previous six seasons, just six free-agent receivers caught 80 or more passes in their first year with that new team. Only two of those receivers were in their 30s: Terrell Owens was 32 when he caught 85 passes for Dallas in 2006, and Derrick Mason was 31 when he left Tennessee for Baltimore in 2005. Houshmandzadeh turns 32 in September.
So what’s the benchmark of expectations for Houshmandzadeh?
“I just want him to come in and help us move the ball and score touchdowns,” team president Tim Ruskell said. “No numbers. If he catches 20 and we win, that’s great. We just think he’s a piece of the puzzle. We know he brings toughness and veteran leadership to the football team at a position we need that.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp said the passing game won’t lean too heavily in any one direction.
“We want to spread the ball around,” Knapp said. “To get to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl, if you’re a one-dimensional receiver team, I think a defense can take that away. Maybe not in the season as much, but when you get to the playoffs, it’s harder to win, and I want to be multidimensional.”
There’s nothing like a little doubt to bring out the competitor in Houshmandzadeh. He entered the league through the back door, a seventh-round pick with a chip on his shoulder that he sharpened with his determination to prove people wrong. This is a guy who’s not planning on playing the new edition of John Madden’s football game because the video-game version of him is too slow. He even appeared on ESPN over the phone to debate two men in charge of the player rankings.
“The dudes, they’re lying,” he said, specifically mentioning a claim made by one of the men that he was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. “You’re a liar because I didn’t run at the combine. That’s how I knew they were lying. They just make all that stuff up.”
At the same time, he understands. His average reception has declined four successive seasons from a career high of 13.4 in 2004 to a career low of 9.8 last season.
“I’m going to show them this year,” he said of the video-game rating.
He’ll have the whole city watching while he does, and if Monday was any indication, fans will be yelling “Housh” with every catch.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org