Seattle Seahawks: Six Reasons Charlie Whitehurst Could Start in 2011
The 2006 third-round pick cost Seattle a 2011 third-rounder before the 2010 draft. The two year, $8 million deal—$10 million with possible incentives—given to Whitehurst was the organization’s way of saying, "you’re here to compete for the starting job, do you have what it takes?"
After year one, the answer is still unclear. The organization has two starts, five games in which he threw a pass and a win to secure the division title to add to their ongoing evaluation of Whitehurst; It’s clear he is in a competition with an unknown opponent to be the 2011 starter.
With any decision, there are multiple perspectives to explore before coming up with a final answer. If Seattle is willing to open the competition for the starting quarterback job, Carroll and Schneider have presumably built the case for Whitehurst through an optimistic lens—not to say they haven't built a pessimistic case against Whitehurst as well.
So what does the organization see in Whitehurst to call him the possible starter for 2011? Here are six reasons why he may be the best option under center next season.
An Offseason with Elevated Expectations Could Yield Elevated Results
Unlike the 2010 offseason, when Charlie Whitehurst was brought in to compete but many presumed he would be the backup, Whitehurst has a clear opportunity to take the reins of the offense in 2011.
Due to this expectation and his failure to take charge of organizing workouts during the lockout, speculation has begun to surface in the media that Whitehurst is "blowing his chance" to start.
Is Charlie Whitehurst really blowing his chance? Whitehurst is from Georgia and is working out in a different city than he plays pro ball, something a lot of players have done this offseason. Following suit to many of those other players, Whitehurst attended the first unofficial organized activities with his squad.
Let's add a layer to the offseason body of work for Whitehurst; he has been throwing with 2011 fourth round pick Kris Durham, their work together beginning before the Georgia pro day. This piece of information was actually unknown to the Seahawks on draft weekend.
In a Seattle PI profile of Durham: "the two were introduced through John Busing, an NFL journeyman safety, who was friends with a player Durham worked out with throughout college. Busing knew Whitehurst, who played his high school ball in Johns Creek, Ga., at Chattahoochee High School, which just happens to be down the street from Durham’s sister’s house."
As for the workouts, Durham paid praise to Whitehurst comparing him to Matt Stafford; their work ethic, velocity and understanding, "all that kind of correlates" according to Durham. Whitehurst and Durham had worked out together "five or six times" as of draft day.
While Whitehurst may not be organizing workouts, he's been working out with a teammate—albeit by chance—and attended the first team workout that was organized.
Say what you will about Whitehurst, but he was a gamer on the field for the Seahawks last season, even a little too willing to take contact. It appears he has been competing this offseason as well.
He knows there is a chance to be the quarterback and if he doesn't become the starter, his prospects being an NFL starter are truly in limbo.
The Prototypical Pete Carroll Quarterback?
It was almost a given to most pundits the Seahawks were going to take a quarterback in the 2011 draft. General Manager John Schneider was persistent in noting after the draft the team had already taken Whitehurst with a 2011 pick.
The evaluation by pundits in projecting the preferred type of quarterback for the Seahawks led to the conclusion of an athletic, mobile, big-armed quarterback who is solid in the short passing game.
This was the "ideal" type.
Before the draft, Carroll offered some facts about his "ideal" quarterback; A guy who could be a game manager, as the team will never carried by one guy; they needed a quarterback who had an understanding of the system, people and the best way to maximize the potential of those around him; it's always nice to have a quarterback that can move, as that ability to move complements the running and passing game. They wouldn't need a pure runner, but more a guy who could get out of the pocket.
If you look at Pete Carroll's quarterback history at USC, his comments seem contradictory given his success with Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer, neither mobile quarterbacks; Mark Sanchez was athletic, but not known for his mobility.
In looking at Whitehurst, he fits the Carroll description rather well. The one major element that is yet to be seen is how Whitehurst handles the offense around him and if he can fully grasp the concepts of Carroll's system.
At least we know Whitehurst possesses the unteachable part of the ideal type; size, mobility, toughness and a strong arm that could land Whitehurst the starting spot.
The $8 Million Salary and Surrendered Third Round Pick
As noted earlier, the Seahawks signed Whitehurst to a two-year deal last offseason; they also gave up a third-round pick, which ultimately may have contributed to the team trading out of the 2011 second round to reacquire a similar pick.
This 2010 analysis by Pat Kirwan of NFL.com explores the differences in approach to filling the backup quarterback spot, sorting the players into four categories: 50-plus career starts, 10-49, 10 or less and zero starts.
Those with 50-plus starts made an average of just under $3 million a year—Kerry Collins and Michael Vick the highest paid players on the list; the next category had salaries ranging from $1-3.25 million; the third experienced group being paid between $500,000 to 2.25 million; the least experienced category not given a range—six of the eight players listed have been in the league four years or less.
To sum up, the Seahawks traded a draft pick for a player in the least experienced category, one of the two players that has been in the league more than four years. On top of that, they made him one of the highest paid backups in the league. If they don't play him in 2011 and he moves on, a fair amount of pundits will view the entire transaction as a quick triggered, early mistake for the Carroll and Schneider regime.
New System, Familiar Terminology and the Only Quarterback Under Contract
The turnover from the Jeremy Bates' offense to the collaborative effort of Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable was set in motion about 48 hours after the team's season ended.
Charlie Whitehurst has been the only quarterback on the roster during the transition, a change to a new system that has the same terminology. While it's unknown how much contact Whitehurst had with the organization before the lockout, we are certain any dialogue wasn't a negotiation, but a collaboration.
Whitehurst hasn't had to deal with the "free agent stuff" like some other players, instead working on his game to presumably compete for the starting job in 2011.
Given Pete Carroll's emphasis on getting the offensive coaching staff on the same page headed into the lockout, I frankly would be surprised if that philosophy didn't extend to the conversation with the only contracted quarterback.
Whitehurst didn't gain an advantage such as having a playbook, those distributed during the lockout lifted day of business during the draft. However, Whitehurst had the new coaching staff at his disposal to pick their brains, and vice versa, about the offensive changes and his possible improvement headed into 2011.
As Whitehurst noted in the interview linked above, "it's going to be a mad dash when they get this thing figured out to mentally get back to where you need to be with the offense." A mad dash Whitehurst presumably has been preparing for—hopefully with the help of the organization until the lockout started—during the past three months.
"We Thought We Had a Young Guy Coming Up and We Still Do."
Simply put, the Seahawks don't feel as though they missed out on drafting a quarterback in 2011; they see Whitehurst as a "young, up-and-coming" quarterback that they believe will continue to grow as part of their system.
Carroll made his assessment of Whitehurst clear in saying his actual age is not as much of a factor in the evaluation, rather his lack of NFL age being a focus of the process.
Carroll quoted by ESPN Mike Sando, "Charlie had never even played before. He has now started two football games in his career in the NFL. He is just getting started, to me. He is just a young guy proving himself and is going to show us in time where he fits."
It's clear the organization believes in Whitehurst; they had the opportunity to draft Andy Dalton—a quarterback John Schneider was quoted as saying was a quarterback that could play right away—and passed in favor of fortifying the protection for whoever is under center in 2011 and beyond.
Given Seattle's decision to pass on a quarterback in the draft—as well as not trading up for one, though it would have been an extremely taxing move towards their draft class as a whole—it's appropriate to bring the following Carroll quote to light.
In a 950 KJR interview Carroll offered the following about if he would "mortgage the future" on a starting quarterback; "For that position yes. If he’s the right guy and can really lead you and command the position like the great players have been able to do, then it’s totally worth it. That player being available is a whole different question—is there somebody out there that is like that? But it is so important that whatever it takes to get the guy, you get him in my mind. And John feels the same way about that."
The Seahawks took out a third round-sized mortgage on Whitehurst that cost the price of a borderline starting quarterback. Their original vote of confidence was pretty high for a guy that had zero career pass attempts.
Whether or not the team bound themselves to the discipline talked about above in 2010 is unknown, but their thoughts in 2011 suggest this is a topic Carroll and Schneider discussed very early on in their tenure and will continue to discuss into the future.
The Seahawks understand they made a sizable investment and it would be short sighted to judge the results and come to a conclusion after one season; they had no plans to make a decision after one year, signified by the two-year deal.
The Week 17 Win Suggests a Bright Future
Charlie Whitehurst's first NFL win came in his second start, a 16-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams in week 17 to win the NFC West.
I previously highlighted the game as a major confidence builder for Whitehurst, a victory that showed he is still a raw player, but he does have potential. He did what the coaching staff asked of him, which in my opinion is more important in that situation than trying to force production in a low-scoring game.
ESPN's Mike Sando reported "Schneider valued the game against St. Louis in particular because it was the one time Seattle built its gameplan for Whitehurst."
Seattle has built one gameplan around the guy and comments by Mike Williams shed light towards the actuality of Whitehurst's situation:
"I think Charlie has a big-time arm, he can make all the throws ... I think people were very critical of him this year but I don't think people take into consideration what repetitions do in this league and the looks and the more time that you have under center in practice and how it carries over to the game ... So I still think the judgment on Charlie definitely has to be out until he's had a full year of work under his belt to really assess where he's at."
The only time the Seahawks gave Whitehurst reps with the first team in preparation for a regular season start as the guy, he made a banner-sized impact.
The indelible mark that will soon hang in the rafters above the 12th man to serve as a reminder winning with Whitehurst was possible in 2010-2011.
And given the praise the organization offered Whitehurst with their comments during draft weekend, it appears Carroll and Schneider believe Whitehurst may be capable of a repeat performance.