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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson embracing his starting status
“It’s still a challenge for Russell to catch up to all this stuff. He’s battling to get that done, and there’s a difference right now.” – Pete Carroll, Aug. 14, 2012
“He’s on it, he’s working really hard to command every aspect of what the quarterback position calls for. We’ve given him everything and he’s working to refine it and get it nailed. I couldn’t ask for more in terms of his preparation and what he’s putting together out there.” – Carroll, June 11, 2012.
How far has Russell Wilson come in the past year? Not even the time-honored “what a difference a year makes” line can do justice to just what the Seahawks’ quarterback has been able to accomplish.
Carroll, the coach who was all-in when it came to selecting Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft and then named him the starter during his rookie preseason, also has used terms like “night and day” and “come a million miles” in trying to define Wilson’s lightning-in-bottle emergence.
Even those over-the-top assessments don’t seem to quite capture it, however.
But here Wilson is, four practices into his second NFL training camp and very much in command of everything – from the locker room, to the meeting room, to the huddle, to what he’s able to do with the ball once it’s snapped.
A year ago, he was the surprise – if not surprised – third wheel in a three-man competition for the starting job with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson and free-agent addition Matt Flynn. And the starters’ reps in practice went in that order on a day-to-day basis: Jackson first; Flynn second; and then Wilson.
Before the summer ended, Wilson had won the job, Jackson had been traded to the Buffalo Bills and Flynn was left to struggle with not winning the job most expected would be his. Since then, Flynn has been traded to the Oakland Raiders, Brady Quinn has been signed in free agency and Jackson re-signed after being released by the Bills.
The stuck-in-up-mode constant in this quarterback carousel has remained Wilson. So this summer is nothing like last summer.
“It makes a huge difference being the starting quarterback so early because you get all those extra reps,” Wilson said Sunday after practice – when he was being serenaded by alternating calls of “Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson” from autograph-seeking fans on the berm at Virginia Mason Athletic Center and those in the VIP section.
“Having those extra reps, being in those situations when the game is on the line, visualizing that success, you really have to be in those situations more times than not. Knowing the actual plays. Understanding the time that it takes to get the ball out. Going 1’s versus 1’s every day – our defense is obviously one of the top defenses in the National Football League. So to be able to go against those guys every day, it’s so competitive.
“And to be able to get three times more reps this year, it makes a huge, huge difference.”
Hmm. Maybe the “million miles” and “night and day” analogies are pretty accurate after all. Because, after all, Wilson went last season where few expected he could go:
He tied Peyton Manning’s NFL rookie record by throwing 26 touchdown passes (compared to 10 interceptions), and added three more in two postseason games.
He ran for more yards (489) than any QB in franchise history.
He passed for 3,118 yards, joining Matt Hasselbeck (seven times), Dave Krieg (four), Jim Zorn (three), Warren Moon (once), Jon Kitna (once) and Jackson (once) as the only QBs who also have done that in the club’s first 37 seasons.
He was added to the NFC Pro Bowl squad as an injury replacement and passed for three more TDs.
He completed an NFL rookie record 16 consecutive passes against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.
He became the first player in NFL history to run for three touchdowns and also pass for a score in the first half of a game against the Bills in Week 15.
He finished third in balloting for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors behind the two quarterbacks who went 1-2 in the draft – Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts.
But Wilson is a team-first-and-foremost guy, and there was plenty to celebrate there, as well:
The Seahawks posted their third-best regular-season record in club history by winning seven of their final eight games, including a three-game stretch where they outscored their opponents 150-30.
The Seahawks went 8-0 in their home games for the third time in franchise history, and Wilson became the first rookie to quarterback his team to an unbeaten record at home.
Wilson rallied the Seahawks from a 14-0 deficit to a 24-14 victory over the Redskins in a wild-card playoff game, the franchise’s first road win in the postseason since 1983.
Wilson rallied the Seahawks from a 20-0 deficit the following week against the Falcons in Atlanta and gave them a 28-27 lead with 32 seconds to play – only to have the Falcons win 30-28 on a last-second field goal.
While Wilson might be in a different situation this summer, he is not that much different. And that’s a good thing.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think Russell has changed very much,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I think that’s one of the best things about him, one of his best qualities, is that he stays to himself. He stays within himself.
“He came in ready. He came in studying meticulously; working meticulously. Staying as long as he can, trying to get better, better, better every day. And I don’t think that’s changed. He came in with an incredible leadership quality about him. And I don’t think that’s changed. I think he’s gotten more comfortable with what he can do – his abilities on the field and off the field.”
If there is a change, it’s this: “I think he’s more confident, and his teammates are more confident in him,” Sherman said.
Case in point: At 6 a.m. Sunday, Wilson was huddling with strong safety Kam Chancellor and veteran linebacker Heath Farwell.
“Just talking about football,” Wilson said. “And understanding, let’s get this communication on the same level, so that way I can understand, OK, what’s the defense trying to do. I think that helps our football team grow and it really brings everybody together.”
Case in point, part II: Last summer, Wilson was usually quarterbacking the No. 2 and No. 3 units. This summer, he’s still watching those units.
“That's how we get better,” Wilson said. “You don’t have to always get all the reps, but just being able to visualize those reps and understand what’s going on really gives you three times the amount of reps. So I think that really helps.”
It’s that attention to detail that has helped Wilson make his quantum leap from one summer to another.
As Sherman put it, “We trust in him. We believe in him. And we’ll follow him to the end of the earth.”