What About Russell?
The Seahawks' unflappable young quarterback got lost in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLVIII, but he's a major reason Seattle's already talking repeat. Plus, readers weigh in on Peyton Manning, the referees and much more
“Russell Wilson! Eighteen for 25, two touchdowns, a 123 QB rating!”
—Seattle coach Pete Carroll, in his post-game speech to his team after the 43-8 Super Bowl victory over Denver.
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What about Russell Wilson?
I’m as guilty of this as the next defensive devotee, but we lost Wilson in the aftermath of Seattle’s first Super Bowl victory in its history Sunday night. Consider that he was opposite Peyton Manning, playing on the biggest stage of his life, with lesser receivers than Denver had, and consider that from his very first big play—a rollout to his left, throwing awkwardly across his body, throwing a line-drive strike to Golden Tate for a first down—he never, ever betrayed any jitters. Like what Pete Carroll told me at Seattle practice Friday: “Russell is exactly where he’s always pictured he’d be in life. I think he is ready to play a very good game.”
Seeing the game Sunday night got me thinking back to the weekend of the rookie third-round pick’s first training camp practice as a Seahawk. July 2012, Renton, Wash., where Wilson, Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson were in a three-way battle for the starting job.
Some of what I wrote coming out of camp that day:
The vibe I got here is that Wilson has a legitimate shot to win the starting job. Carroll loves him. GM John Schneider loves him. Plus, Flynn’s not the kind of player whose arm is going to wow you in a training camp. That gives the charismatic Wilson a chance, which is all he’s ever wanted. I spent 20 minutes with him Sunday, and I was ready to run extra routes for him after listening to him.
“I refuse to be average,’’ Wilson said on the field after practice. “I refuse to be good. All I want to do is work to excel every day.’’
It’s very difficult to make any judgments on a player, or a team, watching a pad-less practice, with players in helmets and shorts. But Wilson’s arm looked every bit as strong, and maybe slightly stronger, than Flynn’s in this practice. On one snap, Wilson was flushed from the pocket, scrambled right (“He scrambles to throw; he doesn’t scramble to run,’’ Carroll said) and launched a slightly wavering 32-yard strike down the right side to a covered Ben Obomanu, who came down with the ball.
That’s what he told me he was happiest about at Wisconsin—the ability to show scouts and NFL teams he could play in the land of the giants (the Badger offensive line is annually one of the nation’s largest) and get clear passing lanes to complete passes. At Wisconsin last year, Wilson had two of 309 batted down—0.6 percent.
“I’ve been told a ton of times if I was just two inches taller, I’d be a great prospect,’’ Wilson said. “But I played behind a huge offensive line last season, and I think what I proved is I’m not going to have any trouble getting the ball out.’’
Sunday night, I said to Wilson: “You just beat Peyton Manning in a playoff game.”
Wilson said, shaking his head: “I know, right?”
I made a couple of passes at Wilson, just to talk, and both times he brought up what he thought was the point everyone needed to remember: “Nobody here thinks we’re done.” That day in Renton, he talked about wanting to be good for a long time. If you’re good for a long time, you have to remember you’ve got to do something every offseason to be better. This is what Seahawks general manager John Schneider saw in Wilson.
In the end, credit goes to Schneider for coming back from scouting Wilson twice in 2011 at Wisconsin and careening into Carroll’s office and saying, “You’ve got to take a look at this guy. You’ll fall in love with him.” Credit goes to Carroll for being true to his competition gene and playing Wilson when the safe thing was to let Flynn play his way out of the starting job during the regular season—and credit to Carroll for sticking with Wilson when he playing just okay football early. And credit to Wilson for doing it, with the help of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterback coach Carl Smith, the well-traveled one.
And credit to them all for knowing winning multiple titles is what separates a franchise. They haven’t been afraid to talk about greatness, short- or long-term, since Carroll arrived four years ago, and I think that helps the team focus on what’s ahead without being distracted or intimidated by it.
Having Wilson as a new-wave quarterback—with a good-enough arm and legs that can get him out of trouble—at a dirt-cheap salary of $662,434 (he cannot renegotiate his rookie contract until next offseason) that should help the Seahawks sign some needed players; Michael Bennett would be the first on my wish list. So many GMs and coaches go to bed at night worrying about their quarterback. Schneider and Carroll don’t have to. They can focus this year on keeping a great defense intact. It’s a good time to be a Seahawks fan.
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