The possibility that Matt Hasselbeck may not be back in Seattle next season is continuing to gain steam per John Clayton’s report on Friday, which begs the question; is the best plan to let Charlie Whitehurst go into 2011 as the unchallenged starting quarterback?
Well, in recent days one name has been cited by multiple sources as a legitimate possibility to be the challenger to Whitehurst; Tarvaris Jackson. In fact, include Jackson himself as one who has expressed this opinion, as he did Friday on Minnesota radio;
“If I go to a new system that I never played in before now, you’re really learning. You’re learning a new offense and just trying to get familiar with the guys. You’re kind of behind the eight-ball. Being that (Seattle will run) the same system, it’s a good opportunity.”
Before we dive into the discussion surrounding Jackson to Seattle, I’d like to touch on the comments of Mike Williams from last weekend, on Seattle radio with John Clayton.
Where does Charlie Whitehurst stand as the leader of the offense?
Clayton asked Williams what he saw for the future of the team in 2011 if they bring Hasselbeck back, or if they go with Whitehurst.
Williams acknowledged that with Hasselbeck, “we gotta do what we did, what worked for us.” The offensive line has to protect, the receivers have to make plays. If that happens, they move the ball. If not, Hasselbeck gets sacked and the offense sputters.
When the offense got together to throw this offseason, Hasselbeck knew the terminology and put players in the correct spots; nothing new to speak of.
His comments about Whitehurst, however, expanded on some unanswered questions. Williams believes the uncertainty regarding Hasselbeck has had an effect on Whitehurst, as it “shortened his command” to put together offseason workouts; because Hasselbeck was still the “starter.” Whitehurst did all he could do.
And there is that “c” word I’ve spoken about, ad nauseam, this offseason; in regards to the quarterback spot. Here, we get insight into that fact that Hasselbeck has indeed been acting as the starter.
Whitehurst has played the role of backup whether he truly wanted to, or not. I am not saying Whitehurst can’t command; the point is he hasn’t been in command, according to Williams.
But Williams goes one step further in revealing a little more about Whitehurst; I like how Charlie thinks, I like his aggression level. I don't know if it's from being down in San Diego and watching Phillip Rivers for a while, but I like that he'll take a chance, and that he has a big arm, he'll try to make the throw.
"I think with more reps and the confidence that comes with being the starter or being labeled the starter, it think it could really change how he approaches everything, and I still think the jury's out on Charlie. He needs the offseason to kind of be the guy, and be able to make the mistakes.”
Williams echoed his sentiments from earlier in the offseason in saying that Whitehurst needs reps, but expanded upon his previous thoughts.
If the plan is to move on from the clear commander of the offense, then the alternative must, at the worst, make sure the bottom doesn’t fall out at the quarterback spot; the building can’t be built without a foundation.
So while Whitehurst may flourish when given the opportunity to start, we re-address our initial question; is it in the best interest of the organization to go into 2011 with Whitehurst as the unchallenged starter?
Just as Hasselbeck’s presence may have hindered Whitehurst during the lockout workouts, an unchallenged Whitehurst hinders the competitive philosophy of the program heading into the season.
If viewing the situation through the lens of constant competition, putting Charlie Whitehurst into the starting spot without a competition is not in the best interest of the team.
Competition doesn’t equal wins, but its nature is to garner the upside. Less than desirable competition can lead to losses and other unwanted consequences.
Loose command at the quarterback spot could set off a chain reaction within the play of the team, potentially one of the undesirable struggles of a weak transitional plan at the position.
So while Whitehurst may have a head start heading into 2011 versus a free agent competitor, Whitehurst is learning another system; and he hasn’t been in command of the offense when learning that system.
The lockout hasn’t given Whitehurst the chance to prove over the course of the offseason he can indeed lead, as Williams alluded to.
The upside to Hasselbeck’s departure is that it should vault Whitehurst into the No. 1 spot, where he can prepare as a starter; the downside is he may have the chance to prepare as the starter before he’s ready.
While creating competition at quarterback will not solve the problem, it will provide depth at perhaps the most important position on the team. If the bottom falls out, the team won’t have as far to fall because there will be a “viable” option waiting in the wings.
Can Tarvaris Jackson elevate the competition for command at quarterback?
There is no standard way to build a championship football team; but I believe that in a program based on competition, it’s ultimately important to make an effort to build the strongest competition possible at quarterback.
Don’t get it twisted; he has a 10-10 regular season record as a starter, 58.7 completion percentage, 76.6 career passer rating and his playoff resume-- 42.9 completion percentage, two turnovers and a loss in one game—isn’t going to have Seahawks fans jumping for joy, myself included.
Nor will his technique issues, apparent since college, or the unpredictability he has shown with both his arm and his acumen on the field; he was unable to hold the job after being thrust into the starting role in 2008, and Brett Favre’s addition in 2009 was the end of the road for Jackson.
However, a fresh start in Seattle—Williams mentioned in the Clayton interview; any guy who comes in for a fresh start and is willing to do the things necessary to fit with the organization is welcome—could make sense for a couple of reasons.
First, his tie to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is well known—Bevell showed an affinity towards Jackson’s potential in Minnesota, Jackson claiming he had a good relationship with “Bev;” even though Jackson worked more closely with quarterback coach Kevin Rogers.
Second, Jackson has quick feet and good strength—in this clip, you can see his athleticism with the ball in his hands.
Third, his live arm has potential, but he needs to prove the ability to have consistent velocity with both short and deep throws.
Lastly, Jackson wants to be a starter, and as he said; the lockout shortened offseason makes Seattle a very logical destination for that type of opportunity. In normal free agency, he may not feel an affinity towards Seattle, but these aren’t normal circumstances.
Seattle may be the best place for Jackson to prove he’s worthy of being a starter; that he learned something from sitting behind Brett Favre for two years, and the 28-year-old is ready to compete—with the soon to be 29-year-old Whitehurst.
Jackson is in a similar position to Whitehurst; the difference being Jackson has been on the field through his experience as a young, underdeveloped quarterback. And he knows the new system.
He may not be the long term answer, or the ideal short term stop gap; but he’s a solid candidate to be a satisfactory competition mate for Charlie Whitehurst.
Are Whitehurst and Jackson really the best competition Seattle can conjure?
No. Seattle must find more to throw into the fire; how they feel about Whitehurst will likely dictate their direction.
If Seattle doesn’t feel confident Whitehurst should be the guy in 2011, veterans Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Kyle Orton all provide extensive experience as a starter—but none of them are currently free agents.
If Seattle’s goal is to figure out the quarterback situation early in free agency so they can fill the roster appropriately, they don’t have time to wait on maybes.
Maybe Seattle knows something we don’t—Seahawks Draft Blog has been chronicling the possibility of Palmer to Seattle for months—and they will able to stick to the plan and acquire one of those players.
Each would certainly bring command to the position, but is it worth giving up more draft picks for a one-year solution; that may or may not be any better than Hasselbeck?
A player and/or low pick would be a safer option, higher picks only for a player that they believe could be the answer beyond 2011.
Seattle could also trade for another developmental quarterback—or a more proven developmental quarterback like Kevin Kolb.
But once again, if there is a chance to draft a premier player in 2012, is it worth giving up any more picks before the Charlie Whitehurst experiment has ended?
Free agency has other options; first, Matt Leinart. His ties to Seattle's staff are obvious. Is the former first round pick ready to be a starter in the NFL—can former USC, now Seahawks’ quarterback coach Carl Smith ignite the guy who won the Heisman? This move has also been rumored as a possibility once the lockout is lifted.
However, beyond Leinart the pool gets murky; Bruce Gradkowski is one of the league’s better backups, but has shown inconsistency as a starter. Matt Moore had a great end to 2009, and a dismal 2010 ending in a trip to injured reserve; not an ideal option for any spot. How about a flier on Drew Stanton; not the name most fans are hoping to hear.
Former Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien is a player I’d like to see Seattle bring into camp as an undrafted free agent; he needs work on his release, but is a smart, tough, efficient winner.
And let’s not forget Darrell Bevell quarterbacked Wisconsin to a Rose Bowl, too. But barring a miracle. Tolzien won’t start in 2011; if he’s even given the chance to make the roster.
The point here is there may not be many options; but that doesn’t excuse Seattle from crafting a plan that doesn’t put the entire team in jeopardy.
Yes, easier said than done. But competition is a basic principle of the program; deviating from core principles when rebuilding a crucial position is not a recipe for creating upside.
If the goal is to uncover Charlie Whitehurst’s upside and see if he is the answer at quarterback, they can’t treat him as a band-aid for the 2011 season.
They must create a floor for the position to stand on, construct an open competition to stop the bleeding; give Whitehurst a chance not to be the band-aid, but to be the salve.