Who is the best player on the Seattle Seahawks right now?
It's a simple question, but one without an easy answer.
While everyone knows that football is a team sport in which teammates rely on each other to win, at the end of the day, one player often stands out amongst the rest.
For the Seattle Seahawks, now in their third season with Pete Carroll as head coach, the focus has never been exclusively on one player to the point of seeing them as the star. With the mantra of "Always Compete," Coach Carroll has made clear to everyone that their jobs and positions are not guaranteed. Yet at the same time, he has offered anyone the chance to succeed provided they come to play.
This summer, Carroll pushed this thinking to the limit by not only opening up the quarterback competition against last year's starter Tarvaris Jackson with the signing of former Packer backup Matt Flynn, but also deciding after rookie camp earlier in the spring to include undersized third-round draft choice Russell Wilson.
Initially, I figured Wilson was being used as a motivational ploy against Jackson and Flynn, who in time would probably end up as the backup quarterback if either veteran failed.
Throughout the summer, I remained unswayed, even to the point of doubting whether he should start following Carroll's announcement naming him the 'Hawks Week 1 starter.
Sure, Wilson looked good against preseason competition, but who gives the reigns of a potential playoff team to a guy right out of college, drafted in the third round, who isn't even six feet tall?
It looked like a recipe for disaster and against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, it was as if Wilson was under intense pressure all day looking tight one minute and lost in the headlights the next, while trying to follow a simple/rigid game plan that involved handing off to Marshawn Lynch and avoiding any turnovers.
Through three-plus quarters, Wilson followed orders as best he could and even managed to hold the lead at 16-13 with roughly 10 minutes to play.
Fate, however, can be fickle and after the 'Hawks defense finally had Cardinals starter John Skelton contained, he went down with an injury that paved the way for Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals to methodically march right down field for the lead at 20-16.
It was a stunning turn of events that left the 'Hawks and their fans at a complete loss and yet, with his back against the wall, down by four with five minutes to go, Wilson finally came to life.
While the 'Hawks may not have won that day, what I saw in those final few moments left me feeling oddly encouraged. Watching Wilson operate in a high-pressure situation made me realize the kid handing off the ball earlier, trying to avoid making any mistakes is good. But the young man walking the tightrope while desperately making plays against a much better than advertised Cardinals defense is someone to believe in.
The big question moving forward to Week 2 against the Cowboys was whether he could find the happy medium between the two personas.
With a little help from the special teams, defense, offensive line and a healthy dose of Marshawn Lynch, Wilson pieced together a solid performance as the Seahawks trounced the Cowboys 27-7 at home.
Moving on to Week 3 with his first win under his belt, the stakes were raised once again as the Green Bay Packers came to the "CLink" for Monday Night Football for a game that had been circled on calendars throughout Seattle for months now.
The funny thing is, the hype surrounding this matchup wasn't supposed to be focused on Wilson at all.
This was going to be the game in which Matt Flynn went up against his old teammates from Green Bay including his mentor, reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. Instead Flynn late last week explained to the Seattle Times Danny O'Neil the current state of his career.
"It's not my decision to make," Flynn said. "I'm proud of the way that I've played and I've picked everything up and how I've handled coming into a new situation. I can't control anything. I'm just trying to make the team better and make myself better, and stay confident."
How exactly did we get here?
How is Wilson the best player on the Seahawks right now?
Shouldn't the Pro Bowler Lynch, the man who single-handedly carried this team for the better part of last season as the "Beast," be considered the 'Hawks best player right now?
What about defensive backs like Pro Bowl player Earl Thomas, or even up-and-coming shutdown corner Richard Sherman?
All of them are, without a doubt, worthy candidates. But Wilson stands apart, and it's something that words can't quite capture accurately although quite a few people have tried.
For now, let's call it Russell-mania. While I'm not surprised in the least that this phenomenon has all of the Pacific Northwest abuzz, what does have me surprised is how quickly and how far it has spread.
It all started innocently enough before the draft with Jon Gruden's endorsement and then full fledged argument with Mel Kiper Jr. during the actual draft, followed by Pete Carroll's announcement in rookie camp that Wilson would get a chance against Jackson and Flynn.
Then once camp started, things quickly took shape. By the time the 'Hawks opened the preseason against the Titans, we were left to wonder if Wilson was for real, only to have it Broncos" target="_blank" href="http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1299878-seahawks-v-broncos-winners-losers-and-closing-thoughts/page/2">confirmed in the weeks that followed while Flynn struggled and Jackson ended up as trade bait.
By the time the preseason had ended, Wilson was not only named the 'Hawks starter, but had Grantland's own head honcho Bill Simmons ranking him No. 1 on his list of NFL quarterbacks and predicting a trip to the Super Bowl.
"I feel like Russell Wilson fell out of the sky for me. He vindicates everything I ever thought about football — that it takes more than just talent, that it doesn't always have to make sense, that it's more of a chemistry/personality/intangible sport than we think, that there's no safer bet than a talented kid with a chip on his shoulder who spent his entire career proving people wrong (and can't wait to do it again). He's a shorter Drew Brees with even more to prove. He's the ultimate litmus test — a QB who fell 50 picks too late because of his height, and now he wants to shove that indignity in everyone's face. Throw in Seattle's sneaky-good defense, its killer home-field advantage, a quality running game and a city that's been dying — repeat: dying — to have a sports hero again, and to absolutely nobody's surprise, I'm riding shotgun in the Cult of Russell this season."
While in some ways having Simmons' endorsement can be seen as the kiss of death, I actually saw it as more of a compliment given how true the final portion of that statement cuts to the bone.
After years of being lost in the wilderness, it's refreshing to see Seattle get this kind of attention thanks to what Wilson has done in a matter of weeks. Seattle desperately needs a hero and the more you read and see of Wilson, the harder it becomes to ignore what he has done, what he can do and what he could potentially achieve.
Still not sure?
Can't say that I blame you, but if you think it takes nerve for Pete Carroll to name Wilson his starter, imagine how much the folks at Levi's think of him to feature him in their "Go Forth" ad campaign.
While it's not uncommon to see a rookie quarterback get an endorsement deal, it is rare to see a company hitch itself to an undersized, unproven, third-round draft choice playing in Seattle of all places. It is also rare if you consider the speed to put it all together with an ad ready to air on Monday Night Football in Week 3.
As Wilson explained to seattlepi.com's Nick Eaton and a group of reporters on Friday during practice, "They just told me to be myself and just go with the flow. They interviewed me for a long period of time with the commercial, and I just talked to them like I normally would."
The results speak for themselves as Wilson comes across quite well in telling his story...
“The biggest thing in terms of me coming to Seattle and my thoughts was just, be yourself,” Wilson says in the ad. “You have to trust in what you believe, you have to trust in who you are. My dad always told me there’s a king in every crowd, you always want to put your best foot forward, you want to be a role model, you want to help every little kid. The biggest thing is just doing what I do best. And that’s working hard.”
Wilson has worked hard to get to this point, but what's perhaps more important is that Wilson knows he has to continue to work even harder in order to achieve greatness. He doesn't strike me as someone capable of being satisfied with simply earning the starting gig, winning a few games this year and racking up endorsement deals.
Wilson isn't playing for the future. He's playing to win right now, and that is why I believe he is the 'Hawks best player right now. This is a guy who wants to stick it to the Mel Kiper Jr's of the world and make everyone who believed in him proud by winning a championship.
Yet isn't that true of every player? To be honest, no.
Wilson's hunger isn't born of making up demons, nor is he saying what people want to hear either for his own benefit or to profit. That's not to say that Wilson is raw and unpolished. Quite the contrary, Wilson looks and sounds like a 10-year veteran, which to some people might seem phony and a bit off-putting. What it says to me is that Wilson is wise beyond his years and is focused on the real task at hand: winning.
Can he do it?
The odds are certainly against him, but haven't they always been?
Rest assured that I'm not going to be the one to bet against him, given this time it feels different.
Essentially what it all comes down to is the fact that Seattle needs Wilson, not just the Seahawks.
Call it fate with a hint of desperation, but after watching Kevin Durant get shoved into a moving van by Clay Bennett, the Seahawks' near miss in Super Bowl XL and the Mariners lost decade, it's time for a positive force of nature to take hold in Seattle. Wilson's blend of athleticism and energy leaves this jaded sports fan hopeful of putting the past decade of disappointment behind him.
After all, when was the last time the Seahawks won a game on a Hail Mary?
Sure Wilson's performance was uneven for the better part of the evening and the call at the end a bit dubious, but in years pas,t this was a game the 'Hawks would have lost.
Ultimately, it's hard to say right now where the Russell Wilson Experience will take us, but I'd like to think that we will all thoroughly enjoy the ride in similar fashion to riding a roller-coaster. You know, screaming like children wanting to get off, yet never really wanting that sensation and excitement to end.
Time will tell, but I'm ready to buckle up, are you?