Is Russell Wilson’s preseason precision a portent of What’s Next?

Posted Aug 26, 2014

In the first halves of the past two preseason games, Seahawks’ third-year quarterback Russell Wilson has been on his game – whether passing or running, and especially on third downs.

Russell Wilson has run for three touchdowns, passed for two and, just as importantly, not thrown an interception.

He is completing 76.9 percent of his passes and averaging 6.8 yards when he runs with the ball.

In Friday night’s 34-6 victory over the Chicago Bears, he led the Seahawks to scores on each of their five first-half possessions – including 14-play, 74-yard and 11-play, 83-yard touchdown drives. The week before, in a 41-14 romp over the San Diego Chargers, the Seahawks scored on each of the four first-half possessions that Wilson directed – including eight-play, 78-yard and 10-play, 72-yard drives.

As the Seahawks prepare for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Raiders in Oakland, when Wilson is expected to play sparingly, it is worth asking: Is there anything that the coaches needed to see from their third-year QB this summer that Wilson has not done?

“No, he’s doing everything right now,” coach Pete Carroll said. “Shoot, he’s almost completing 80 percent of his passes, so he’s on it. To see the third-down numbers go in the last couple weeks, that’s really cool.”

Or torrid, in the case of what the Seahawks have done overall – 8 of 12 for 67 percent against the Chargers and 10 of 14 for 71 percent against the Bears; and especially with Wilson in the game – 5 of 6 for 83 percent against the Chargers and 5 of 8 for 63 percent against the Bears.

“I think that goes back to the quarterback and really being confident,” Carroll said of the spike in performance on the pivotal down. “Russell is getting the ball out really quickly, and when he isn’t he’s moving efficiently and finding a place to put the ball and he’s keeping the drives alive.

“When he can move, it’s really hard to stop us. Because he’s just out there and he makes so many things happen.”

In the past two games, Wilson is 8 of 8 for 116 yards and two touchdowns on third downs, and also has scored each of his three rushing TDs.

Asked the what-did-you-need-to-see-that-he-hasn’t-done question, quarterbacks coach Carl Smith strips the situation to its roots – and also offers an anecdote.

“When we had the national media in early in training camp that was their go-to question to me, ‘OK, what have you identified for year three in Russell?’ ” Smith said and then cracked a smile before adding, “Football. Get better at football. Each play, every play there’s something. There are multiple things that come up every day to help a quarterback in his play.

“So yeah, we found out. Football is what we’re trying to get better at, and that’s what Russell has been working at is football and he’s getting better.”

In his own methodical – almost maniacal – way. Because, as we all should know by now, the separation is in the preparation. With Wilson, that started with improving his balance, and letting everything else improve from there.

“Russell is doing a terrific job,” Smith said. “He’s working on his game daily. OTAs were good. Training camp has been good to this point. He’s working to improve in every area to help our football team.”

And it’s been obvious to the other members of the team, especially the defensive players who go against Wilson in practice every day.

“Russell is going through his progressions. He’s making the right read. And he’s minimizing the negative plays, as he calls it,” All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “When he doesn’t have anything, he’ll run for 3 or 4 yards. And that’s a big deal in keeping the third-and-3s, the third-and-2s, the third-and-shorts. You always want to keep those and then convert them.”

The past two preseason games, Wilson has been converting third-and-whatever. On third-and-10, he passed to Jermaine Kearse for 12 yards and a touchdown. On third-and-7, he passed to Percy Harvin for an 11-yard gain. On third-and-8, he passed to tight end Luke Willson for 18 yards. On third-and-goal from the 5, he ran for a touchdown.

What’s the secret to Wilson’s progressive success? “That’s my mindset, I’m still trying to make the team,” he said.

And Wilson made that telling statement on the anniversary of the day Carroll named Wilson the starter as a rookie in 2012.

Asked for his assessment of the things he needed to see from himself this summer, Wilson offered, “I think I’m doing a good job. I’m still trying to work on a few things here and there. I’m trying to be on time and on the money every day. Just get the ball to the right guy at the right time. My footwork, I want it to be as crisp as possible. I’m doing a really good job of that right now.

“There’s always room to improve. And it’s just starting. It’s just getting going.”

The regular season, of course, which kicks off Thursday night, Sept. 4, against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field. But also Wilson’s career, as he is just beginning his third NFL season.

“I’ve got a lot more room to grow,” Wilson said. “It’s a good thing. I’m excited about it. That’s why I come out here early every day. That’s why my focus is so alert right now, because I want to try to be the best one day. To do that, I have to be on it every day. I can’t miss a day.”

Talk about stretching the meaning of What’s Next?