Seattle Seahawks 2011: Is it Time for Charlie Whitehurst to Start at QB?

Charlie TodaroAnalyst IIIApril 13, 2011

Seattle Seahawks 2011: Is it Time for Charlie Whitehurst to Start at QB?

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    The Seahawks picked in the 2011 third round a year early.
    The Seahawks picked in the 2011 third round a year early.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    With all of the attention that has been given to the potential quarterback prospects for the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 draft, the only quarterback under contract with Seattle, Charlie Whitehurst, has remained mostly beneath the radar.

    If all of these other prospects are to be evaluated as the potential starter for Seattle in 2011, isn’t it only fair to evaluate what Whitehurst is by definition to the Seahawks? He was acquired from San Diego in exchange for their 2011 third-round pick.

    The trade also allowed the Seahawks to move down in the 2010 second round, ultimately acquiring receiver Golden Tate.

    I want to make it clear from the beginning that I am not convinced that Charlie Whitehurst is the guy, the quarterback who can and will give the Seahawks a legitimate shot at winning another NFC West title in 2011 or beyond.

    But on the other side of the coin, I believe it’s a waste to let go of your 10-year franchise quarterback and flat out give up on your backup, which cost a 2011 Round 3 pick. Let's see if Whitehurst can begin to fulfill the expectations of the future franchise quarterback, competing for the job with the current starter. 

    And to execute the combination of cutting commitment to both in the same NFL year seems like an incredibly risky move for an organization “focused on owning the division,” as head coach Pete Carroll bluntly put it in his postseason presser in January.

    It’s unclear where Whitehurst lies in the view of the organization headed into 2011. We know they think he’s got potential. The question is how much: Last offseason, they thought he could be the guy.

    Going into 2011, everyone is asking: Does he deserve to be the guy?  Can he be the guy? 

    Let’s take a closer look at Whitehurst, not only as a five-year veteran, but as the prospect the Seahawks took in exchange for their 2011 third-round pick.

Whitehurst's College Production

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    Whitehurst made some big time plays with is feet at Clemson to go along with his 41 school records.
    Whitehurst made some big time plays with is feet at Clemson to go along with his 41 school records.Craig Jones/Getty Images

    As a redshirt freshman at Clemson in 2002he flashed potential with a 3-2 record in his five full games—finishing with two four-touchdown games—but threw four interceptions in the Tangerine Bowl to complete the season.

    Only Phillip Rivers threw for more yards than Whitehurst through a sophomore season in ACC history. Whitehurst set school records in passing yards and efficiency, 200-yard games, 300-yard games, touchdowns and total offensive plays in 2003.

    He threw 13 interceptions, with two two-interception games and two zero-pick games. He led Clemson to 9-4 record and a victory against No. 6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. It was an explosive season for the Clemson offense.

    His 2004 season, well, should be put in the dictionary as the prototypical junior season to crush one’s draft stock. Playing with an inexperienced squad, he threw 17 interceptions versus seven touchdowns, with a completion percentage below 51 percent, under 2,100 yards passing...I’ll stop there. He managed a 6-5 record.

    Whitehurst’s 2005 senior season was, for a change, consistent. With new coordinator/quarterback  coach Rob Spence, Whitehurst bounced back.

    Improvements in technique and accuracy led to nearly 2,500 yards passing and a completion percentage above 67 percent. He was efficient, not explosive, with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He logged a 7-4 record as starter, not playing against Duke due to a sore shoulder.

    Whitehurst finished with 41 Clemson passing records during an-at-times explosive, yet inconsistent college career. He began to learn the ins and outs of the position under the new staff in 2005, but was unable to continue his development when he was drafted as a second/third stringer in San Diego.

    Due to his extremely uneven production, he was viewed by some as an ideal candidate to play a year or two in NFL Europe.  Whitehurst’s stock was wavering going into the 2006 draft. 

Six Things to Know About Charlie Coming out of Clemson

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    Sparing you a six-year, retroactive, in-depth scouting report of Whitehurst, here are six nuggets about his skill set, intangibles, performance, football IQ, etc...of highlight coming out of Clemson.

    1. Whitehurst is the son of former Packers quarterback David Whitehurst, who played seven seasons in the NFL.

    2. He stands tall in the pocket and he is willing to take a hit, but he tends to release the ball out of sync and at times looks stuck in his throw, most noticeably on a sometimes floating and behind-the-receiver deep ball; when he makes a mechanically complete throw off his front foot, he has a very live arm.

    3. Shows body control and balance keeping the play alive when forced to escape pressure. He has above-average athleticism inside and outside the pocket.

    4. Tends to lock onto his primary receiver and needs to improve his progressions, which sometimes leads to failing to recognize pressure. He has 24 fumbles in three seasons.  

    5. Norm Chow said during the 2006 Senior Bowl: "Charlie Whitehurst has obviously been very well coached. He has good technique. He just needs to keep working hard. Getting bigger, getting stronger. He comes from a nice system." Then Tennessee Titan's offensive coordinator, Chow's previous job was offensive coordinator for Pete Carroll at USC.

    6. He had minor shoulder surgery for that sore shoulder before his final college game, a bowl victory against Colorado. That was the only game to evaluate if shoulder surgery meant anything towards his pro career. It was a surgery from six years ago, but the red flag must be mentioned.

Whitehurst’s Pro Career Pre-Seattle

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    Only pre-season game film was available in evaluating Whitehurst as a pro.
    Only pre-season game film was available in evaluating Whitehurst as a pro.Jacob de Golish/Getty Images

    Whitehurst was drafted in the third round, 81st overall, by the Chargers in 2006. Many San Diego pundits were confused by the initial pick, but A.J. Smith defended the pick saying Whitehurst had legitimate potential.

    His stat line in four years in San Diego under Norv Turner, and behind Philip Rivers: two games, zero starts, zero pass attempts, two rushes, including a 14-yard touchdown, the other a kneel down.

    A preseason quarterback and nothing more except excellent trade bait. 

Progress Made in 2010: Charlie Whitehurst Season Review

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    Seattle got a small glimpse of his abilities in 2010...
    Seattle got a small glimpse of his abilities in 2010...Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Due to the price tag, Whitehurst came in with relatively high expectations, even though little was known about his true abilities.

    Whitehurst appeared in six games for Seattle, throwing a pass in five games, and he started in Weeks 9 and 17. Like his college career, Whitehurst was inconsistent, yet he flashed NFL potential in his first season in Seattle. Let's take a look at the five games in which he attempted a pass.

Week 9 vs. New York and Week 10 at Arizona

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    Maybe the best he looked all day...
    Maybe the best he looked all day...Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Week 9 vs. New York Giants

    Unfortunately, I witnessed in person how painfully obvious it was that Whitehurst hadn’t played a meaningful game in nearly five years when he suited up in Week 9 versus New York.

    He looked overwhelmed by the speed of the game from the start. He showed nerves early. He was often high on his throws and badly missed a wide open Chris Baker on a trick play.

    A good throw was usually followed up by a bad throw, bad decision or bad bounce. But he displayed character all the way through.

    When throwing from a stable pocket, he made some very solid throws; the first interception was a good throw that was bobbled by Mike Williams, the second interception poorly placed behind and inside.

    However, he sometimes got stuck on his feet and leaned out of the throw, unable to transfer through the throw with proper footwork.

    His 36-yard touchdown throw to Ben Obomanu was, in my opinion, a bit under thrown, continuing a tendency he showed at Clemson not to lead receivers, but leave them waiting.

    Obomanu was waiting for the ball upon catching it, but Whitehurst did do a good job of holding the safety.

    The ball to Obomanu was late and floated a bit, but he was so wide open it was irrelevant; Whitehurst, however, looked like the same player as in 2005.

    What I like is he didn’t celebrate his first career touchdown, as he was about to be down 41-7. He even waved off a teammate. He’s a competitor.

    Stat line: 12-for-23, 113 yards, 2 INT, 1 TD, 1 Fumble

    Game-time played: 60 minutes

    Week 10 at Arizona

    His relief appearance one week later in Arizona showed minor improvement.

    Whitehurst took one kneel down to end the first half and started the second half, as Matt Hasselbeck was treated for his broken left wrist.

    I could sense the same nervous excitement from Week 9, but he was able to channel that into his play, looking sharper in all phases of the game.

    Whitehurst looked confident to start the drive, making his progressions and aggressive throws, even on the move.

    Again, however, inconsistency reared its ugly head with an interception reminiscent of his Week 9 performance.

    Two weeks in a row he hesitated and threw an easy a pick to the inside of the receiver. Neither throw was characteristic of a quality NFL quarterback.

    However, the play-calling was more aggressive than in Week 9. They put him on the move with rollouts aimed at the short completions and yards after the catch. He threw the 15-yard out with confidence, a change from the week before. It was something to note, but still a ways from being a possible starter.

    Stat line: 4-for-6, 53 yards, 1 INT

    Game time played: 7:30

Week 15 vs. Atlanta and Week 16 at Tampa Bay

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    A stepping stone game for Charlie.
    A stepping stone game for Charlie.Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Week 15 vs. Atlanta

    I believe the Atlanta game was a stepping stone for Charlie. He looked more caught up to the speed of the game, aggressive from the first throw.

    His feel improved and he looked more comfortable making plays with his feet, a potential he flashed often at Clemson. He finally looked like he knew what an NFL hit felt like, and he was ready to compete at a higher level.

    Whitehurst had his best appearance yet, completing throws into tight windows with zip and good timing.

    A cross-body, across-the-numbers, first-down throw to John Carlson on a slow developing, play-action rollout was his best throw as a professional to that point. He drew a roughing-the-passer penalty while completing the pass. Guy’s got toughness: it was a 46-yard play after the penalty.

    He took command of the offense in the red zone, completing a third-down throw against heavy pressure, then two scrambles in a row, those being a fourth-down conversion followed by a touchdown. That sequence came after consecutive dropped passes by his receivers.

    On the second chance at the two-point conversion, he made an excellent touch throw towards the back pylon, and looked the part of an NFL quarterback during that drive.

    However, he would finish the game overwhelmed in the four-minute drill, throwing an interception on 4th and 8. Whitehurst showed he could take command of the offense and drive down the field, his first such occurrence in the NFL.

    Stat line: 8-for-16, 83 yards, 3 rushes for 10 yards, 1 TD, 1 sack taken

    Game time played: 15:45

    Week 16 at Tampa Bay

    Just as he looked ready to take a giant step forward, Whitehurst went backwards in Tampa; the inconsistency from his college days proved to still be a factor. Whitehurst looked flat from the start, unable to provide the same spark on the road as he did the previous week at home.

    Seattle didn’t give Whitehurst much time to throw, but opposite of Week 15, Whitehurst struggled from the very first throw. He wasn’t able to escape pressure nearly as effectively as he showed in Week 15, often getting caught behind the line when trying to scramble.  

    Whitehurst’s inability to slide, or at the least not go head first, became evident as well.

    As the game wore on into the fourth quarter, he began to become more comfortable in the pocket and Seattle played more dink-and-dunk ball, plodding down the field for an early fourth quarter Leon Washington rushing touchdown. It took Seattle almost three quarters to get the offense going with Whitehurst; to some extent, it was the Giants game, take two.

    Stat line: 11-for-18, 66 yards, 3 sacks taken

    Game time played: 45:30

Week 17 vs St. Louis, Championship Football

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    Week 17 vs St. Louis

    Pete Carroll gave Charlie Whitehurst the confidence of being the guy going into the Week 17 game. And as an attendee of the Week 17 game, I can say the fans did as well.

    And Charlie knew it. Under the brightest of lights, Whitehurst played his only game of the season in which he looked the part of a potential NFL starter. His command of the huddle and willingness to make quick decisions stood out.

    The Seahawks came out firing, and so did Whitehurst. He looked confident in the pocket. In the red zone, the Seahawks capitalized on a misdirection rollout, the entire field moving to the right as Mike Williams leaked back across the middle of the field, Whitehurst hit him in the end zone with a beautiful cross-body throw.  Whitehurst went 5-for-5 for 85 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive, the best drive of his NFL career.

    Whitehurst managed the game well. He used his running backs effectively out of the backfield, took care of the football and made plays with his feet, both scrambling and on designed rollouts.

    However, he missed some big-play opportunities down the field, late getting the ball to the receiver or he missed plays entirely.

    Whitehurst often found himself in trouble, either surprised by pressure or holding the ball too long. Furthermore, he took a beating when scrambling versus St. Louis, his inability to avoid contact proving to be more than just a minor concern going forward.

    Interestingly enough, I found myself more critical of Charlie when re-watching the Rams game, partly because he showed the potential to play at a higher level. In the end, he did what was asked of him, which ended up being enough to win.

    A solid effort, and possibly a confidence-changing win, it was the game that may be the tipping point for the organization in evaluating Whitehurst for 2011 as the potential starter. This was a big-time win for Charlie Whitehurst. He’s not 0 for 2 going into 2011, but instead riding the confidence of winning the division in his second start.   

    Stat line: 22-for-36, 192 yards, 1 TD, 30 rushing yards

    Game time played: 60 minutes

Charlie Whitehurst Deserves a Chance in 2011?

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    He left of winning the NFC West, where will he pick up in 2011?
    He left of winning the NFC West, where will he pick up in 2011?Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Seahawks go into the draft in a precarious position. The player they already owned in 2010 showed improvement in only three games, plus some extra playing time. In my opinion, I don't believe he deserves to have his chance to start taken from him by a rookie before training camp.

    At worst, Whitehurst is a rookie with four years of NFL redshirt experience, and one season of spot play.  

    If you are willing to look at Whitehurst’s situation optimistically, he put in a decent audition when given the chance to overtake the franchise quarterback spot in the most unlikely of scenarios in Week 17.  

    He could have flopped, and Seattle would be picking inside the top 10 and never have gone seismic on the Saints. Whitehurst did contribute in 2010.  So going into 2011, he deserves to be a factor.

    To be honest, with an offseason of busting his behind and using the confidence that he can win a big game in the NFL, I think there’s a chance Whitehurst can surprise in 2011.

    Whitehurst needs to work on his footwork, deep-ball technique, drop depths and progressions to make the jump to play at the next level. A year with self-proclaimed "football coach" Carl Smith, the man who coached Matt Leinart in his 2004 Heisman season, will help Whitehurst as well. 

    It’s clear to me he carries the expectation of being a starting quarterback; I think he’s got a quiet moxie and leadership skills that can only grow if given the keys to an offense.

    But is my hunch a given to come true in 2011, or at all? No. Going into 2011 with Whitehurst as the only guy would not be a smart move.

    Nobody will  know until draft day where the first quarterback is taken, or how many will be taken before Seattle at No. 25. Seattle could be the first to take a quarterback, or it could find itself minus three or four of their top quarterback prospects to choose from. And what about pick No. 57? A quarterback of value could certainly fall.

    But beyond who and when, I think it’s imperative to look at how much Seattle would be investing in the position in 2011. First and third-round picks used on quarterbacks takes up a lot of draft capital, especially for a team with holes throughout the roster.

    Healthy competition would certainly be created at the position, but allowing for a rookie to possibly start in 2011 does not necessarily go hand in hand with maintaining division dominance and creating a balanced roster.

    I’ll maintain that the only quarterback taken by a Schneider team in the first round is Aaron Rodgers. Carroll is a defensive guy—Red Bryant was his toy in the 2010 offseason.  By digging to at least just below the surface, I only see Seattle taking a quarterback prospect at No. 25 they believe can be a top quarterback in the league, and soon.

    If the always optimistic Carroll is willing to accept that Seattle can’t rebuild and compete, or a two-to-three year developmental prospect with a high ceiling will compete in 2011 and 2012 and create a winner in 2013, taking that quarterback becomes a more logical move as a first-round pick.

    Seattle, however, may be better served going in a different direction, taking an offensive lineman or a defensive player.  

    Carroll is optimistic about winning, too. Waiting another two-to-three years to win places Carroll at the end of his contract, still trying to break through to the next level.  

    Whitehurst might not be the answer for Seattle, but he currently owns the No. 1 spot on the Seahawks depth chart.

    It’s an unusual situation to have a five-year veteran holding the value of a third-round rookie, an unorthodox situation for an unorthodox organization.

    So where does that leave Whitehurst? Well, he is still a third-round draft pick, but also receiving far less attention than Matt Hasselbeck, who is reportedly looking less likely to come back, or any potential 2011 first or second round pick.

    Either way, Whitehurst is headed into a contract season, and he is slated to compete for the Seahawks starting job in 2011.

    It is a job that is currently his to lose.