Seattle Seahawks: Projecting the Quarterback Competition for 2011

Charlie TodaroAnalyst IIIAugust 3, 2011

Seattle Seahawks: Projecting the Quarterback Competition for 2011

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    The quarterback picture hasn’t gained any clarity since the beginning of free agency. Out went Matt Hasselbeck, into the starting spot went Charlie Whitehurst, who was then replaced by Tarvaris Jackson.

    After a chaotic offseason not remedied in the most soothing manner, it appears the near future will be filled with the twists and turns of competition at the position.

    There are still many unknowns in the quarterback situation—after all, Jackson is yet to make his debut, happening Aug. 4. Will that be the last time Whitehurst runs the first team in 2011?

Is There Really a Competition for the Starting Spot?

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    Eventually there should be—right now, there’s not; and that’s OK.

    Tarvaris Jackson knows the system and therefore brings continuity and confidence to the huddle from day one.

    Charlie Whitehurst needs to learn the system before he can command the huddle and put the offense in the right position; but from the sounds of his comments early in camp, it sounds like he’s ready to be named the starter, take command and lead the offense.

    Will he eventually get his shot?

    In the same John Schneider interview I referenced earlier in the week, he was asked if the quarterback situation was a “1a, 1b” type scenario.

    Schneider said “it gets back to the philosophy of competition at every position and we felt like this would be a great competition;” Jackson can step in day one and make all the calls.

    Heading into free agency I came to the conclusion that if the Seahawks really wanted to see if Whitehurst was the answer beyond 2011, they couldn’t treat him as a Band-Aid for this season.

    The team needed to create a floor for the position to stand on, give him the opportunity to compete with another player who has command of the system; Whitehurst playing himself into the starting job would be the ideal, opposed to placing him in the position before he is ready.

    I think their approach makes sense because it certainly sounds as though the plan is to let Whitehurst compete—when he’s ready. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the following on Monday, after Whitehurst turned in his best practice of the year: 

    Charlie has responded very well, he’s taken it like a pro. The thing is, coach (Carroll) explained it to him well. One, you’re up front with him and then, two, (Jackson) has it because he knows the system…As soon as Charlie gets up to speed with the system, then the competition is on. I don’t think there’s ever not competition for those guys with our program. Coach is always preaching about competition. So Charlie is going to be able to give that to T-Jack, and it will make both of them better.

    There is now an acknowledged plan to give Whitehurst a shot, and they should. Jackson is the Week 1 starter, for now; when appropriate, competition should run its course at the quarterback spot. 

A Statistical Projection for 2011

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    One of the advantages of having Jackson and Whitehurst compete at quarterback is the interchangeability of the two players; different than Hasselbeck and Whitehurst last year, only minor tweaks are needed for this system because of the duo’s similarities.

    They are both big-armed, athletic quarterbacks that need to work on similar areas of their game, such as technique and their progressions. An emphasis on the short passing game could ultimately help increase completion percentage—open up the field and the big play.

    In 2010, Seattle was 19th in passing yards per game, 25th in yards per pass attempt, 21st in completion percentage, 30th in percentage of pass plays for first down, 29th in quarterback rating, in the bottom five in touchdowns and in the top 10 in most interceptions thrown.

    The Seahawks will look to improve in those areas to gain consistency on offense—similar numbers in 2011 could reflect quarterback indecision and general struggles at the position.

    The emphasis will be on improving a bottom-ranked rushing attack, not necessarily in creating a prolific passing attack—though Seattle is certainly acquiring the weapons to improve all aspects of the passing game, and the addition of Zach Miller will help Seattle’s flexibility in two tight end sets.

    It’s worth mentioning here rookies Josh Portis and Zac Lee are unlikely to see extensive time in 2011 because of the uncertainty in the top two spots—if both rookies remain with the program—unless there are injuries to the top guys.

    Furthermore, preseason snaps could be given to Whitehurst in order to get him up to speed more quickly, to see where the competition is going into the regular season.

    I think Seattle will find a way to improve on its numbers in 2011; 3,700 yards passing, improvement in yards per attempt from 6.5 to seven-plus and a rise in completion percentage into the low 60s—all numbers that would be in the top 16 in 2010—should be a sign Seattle has found more balance on offense.

    As a main part of the Pete Carroll, West Coast-offense philosophy, I expect that ball security will be a major factor in determining who plays quarterback for Seattle—especially considering its struggles in that area last season. 

When Could a Quarterback Change Occur and Will It Happen?

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    There appears to be no definitive timetable for Whitehurst. If Jackson is indeed the starter Week 1, he will have two road games before he even hears the roars of CenturyLink as a Seahawk.

    Unless Jackson has a horrific first two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Carroll makes a change that early in the season—unless Whitehurst is close enough to ready where a switch is warranted and the tone needs to be changed heading into the home opener.

    Seattle has a two-game homestand Weeks 3 and 4, before hitting the road at New York before the bye. Jackson will start the year in two hostile environments; depending on his performance in those games and his play at home, it could be his last chance to garner some momentum as the starter.

    Seattle plays Week 7 on the road in Cleveland, and I believe this could be a point in the season where the 'Hawks ask themselves: Is it worth playing Jackson if he’s struggling when there are only 11 games left to learn about Whitehurst? Unless Whitehurst just isn’t ready, then there is no reason to maintain a staunch commitment to a struggling Jackson.

    Will Whitehurst actually get a chance to start? I think he will, for a couple reasons. First, he came into camp speaking the language of a starting quarterback, ready to take responsibility for the position and the team.

    Also, the organization gave up a valuable pick for him; as many have stated over the course of the offseason, not playing him would be a waste of a pick and bring the organizations first major personnel decision even more under the microscope.

    I believe there is another factor in this decision: chemistry with the receiving corps.

    Mike Williams has been outspoken this offseason, stating he believes Whitehurst needs the confidence of being labeled the starter and the chance to have first team reps and game experience.

    It’s worth watching the dynamic in the locker room between Jackson, Sidney Rice and the 2010 Seahawks; Whitehurst won a big game for the team—they know he can answer the call with the season on the line. Having the confidence of your team is a must, as is taking part in the Seahawks’ culture.

    With the addition of Rice, will Williams continue to emerge as the leader of the receiver corps? If he indeed wants Whitehurst to get his shot, is there the potential for friction with the former Vikings faction?

    I'm not saying it will happen, but leadership positions are up for grabs on this very young team; there is no guarantee the transition is smooth. 

    I think Whitehurst eventually gets the chance to prove he can be the franchise quarterback—unless Jackson starts the year hot and doesn’t relinquish command of the offense—even if for only a couple of starts.

    Otherwise, the Seahawks risk not fully preparing themselves to decide who will be the starting quarterback beyond 2011.