How Russell Wilson Won the Seattle Seahawks' Starting QB Job
After the Seahawks brought in Matt Flynn from the Green Bay Packers it seemed like he would be the incumbent starter regardless of what happened during the draft. He signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract in March that included $10 million guaranteed.
However, that all changed once Russell Wilson was selected in the third round of this year's draft.
Immediately, head coach Pete Carroll declared there would be a three-way, open quarterback competition between Flynn, Wilson and 2011 starter Tarvaris Jackson. According to Coach Carroll, the competition would be ongoing throughout training camp deep into the preseason until one player separated himself from the pack.
Few believed that Wilson would come away as the opening day starter. I was one of the skeptics; I always thought he had the attributes and intangibles to turn into a starter, yet I didn't think it would happen for at least a couple years.
But three strong preseason performances in all phases allowed Wilson to quickly jump to the top of the depth chart. Heading into Week 4, he has amassed 464 yards passing and a passer rating of 118.7 with six total touchdowns to boot.
Coach Carroll had kind words for Wilson after he announced he would be the starter on a conference call with the media last night (h/t Yahoo! Sports):
He's done everything you could ask for on the field, and more than you guys could know off the field, in meeting rooms and with the players. He's earned this job. It was a legitimate competition, as we've said from the beginning, and he deserves to start. So, we're excited to do that.
Some who have yet to see the Seahawks play this preseason may be wondering, what gave Wilson the edge up on Flynn? Or what attributes of his game make him the clear cut favorite?
Luckily, I'm going to break down his play from the first three games of his young NFL career, so you understand why he is the clear cut favorite in Seattle.
One of the biggest concerns about rookie quarterbacks is their ability to understand coverage windows and the accuracy needed to thread the needle. Wilson has always shown the ability to throw an accurate ball that does not end up in the hands of an opposing defender. In his collegiate career, he threw 1,489 passes and only 30 of those were intercepted.
On this particular play, the offense is in 11 personnel with tight end Anthony McCoy in the slot as the primary target. McCoy will be running a nine-route down the seam, hoping the defense is in zone coverage. The seam route allows him to find an opening between the linebacker and safety.
Once McCoy makes his way to the empty area it's up to Wilson to make the right throw. And make the right throw he does as it's high to the inside and in stride. Which is key because if the ball is thrown late and not in stride, the defender would have been able to make an easy play on it. The separation from No. 36 is not huge by any means but it is enough as long as the throw is on point.
The best part about Wilson's throw is that it's placed where only the tight end can get it.
As you watch the clip in full-speed, pay attention to the move McCoy gives the linebacker and Wilson's patience.
Throw On the Run
From one aspect of the passing game to the next, it's rare for a player to have so many solid traits as a 23-year-old rookie quarterback. Most quarterbacks who use their legs as a weapon have a hard time being accurate while throwing on the run. But from the small sample size we have seen of Wilson, a throw on the run is probably equally as accurate as a throw in the pocket.
During Seattle's Week 1 preseason game against the Titans, a very impressive 3rd-and-long throw stood out as Wilson delivered an absolute dart on the run. Again, an inside slot receiver is the recipient of a throw that exploits zone coverage in the middle of the field.
No. 14 Charlie Martin does a great job of running his route and finding the open area as the Titans appear to be in a Cover 2-defense that is shading to the strong side of the field. Martin ran a six-route which is more popularly known as a hook/curl route.
More importantly watch Wilson's elusiveness and the way he throws the ball on the run. Notice his eyes as well: they are always downfield looking for that open space on the field.
Below are two clips that show the play from two very different angles. The first shot is from the broadcast view.
The second shot is from the end zone camera.
It's hard to defend against a quarterback who makes accurate throws no matter what his throwing circumstances are.
Elusiveness and Speed
I touched briefly on this above but it's important to break a player down after a play has broken down. Is the player a statue in the pocket or does he have the ability to escape and make things happen with his legs? It's pretty obvious with his throw on the run ability that he can make plenty happen, just as he did here on this 27-yard gain against the Chiefs in the second quarter.
On this play action roll out Wilson is looking to hit a receiver down the right side of the field, but outside linebacker Justin Houston fails to fall for the fake and blows up the play in the backfield. But you don't actually think he recorded the sack do you?
Wilson juked and stiff-armed Houston like it was no big deal, then he broke down No. 97 and No. 92. Wilson proceeded to pick up a couple of key blocks on his cutback which allowed him to finish off the run unscathed. The biggest key block of them all was the hit Leon Washington laid on Eric Berry; check it out below.
A huge hit but, thankfully, Berry popped right back up after the play was over. The elusiveness and speed is just another dimension that will help make Wilson a successful quarterback.
Based on what I've seen in the preseason their is nothing that leads me to believe he will have any problem keeping the starting job. You know if Coach Carroll was worried about that he would never have named him the starter in the first place.
The biggest thing about Wilson is his poise in the pocket; he doesn't appear rattled and his awareness to everything around him is unreal. A very rare trait for a player who is so young. As unorthodox as Carroll is, it's good to see him not worry about all the underlying details. All he worries about is who gives his team the best chance to win.
I think Wilson will have his struggles just like every other rookie quarterback does and there will be a point where a team just outright stumps him defensively with coverages and blitzes, but those are all a part of the learning curve. Taking a fair share of bumps and bruises long the way is essential to developing into a great player.
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