Every day between now and the start of Seahawks training camp, Seahawks.com will take a look at some of the team's most intriguing storylines, position battles and players heading into the 2017 season. Today, we focus on what a healthy Russell Wilson could mean to Seattle's offense. The list continues Wednesday with a look at the competition at right cornerback.
In the third quarter of Seattle's 2016 opener, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson sustained a significant ankle injury in an eventual victory over the Miami Dolphins. Two weeks later, still hobbled by that high-ankle sprain, Wilson sprained his knee against the San Francisco 49ers.
Thanks to a combination of toughness, dedication, braces, athletic tape, and countless hours of hard work from the training staff, Wilson never missed a game last season despite sustaining two injuries that usually cause players to miss multiple weeks, but he wasn't quite right, physically, for basically the entire year.
Even hobbled, Wilson still managed to complete a career-high 353 of 546 passes for 4,219 yards, but his 92.6 passer rating—still a very respectable number—was the lowest of his career while his 11 interceptions were a career high.
And it should be noted that for those to be career-worst numbers through five seasons, Wilson has had a heck of a career thus far. But those injuries, among other factors, kept Wilson from being his very best last season, but after a healthy offseason in which he altered his diet and slimmed down a bit, Wilson is poised to be at his very best from a physical standpoint when camp opens Sunday.
"He set his sights on putting together an incredible offseason and he's done it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said during offseason workouts. "He's worked religiously at his workouts, his conditioning, his arm strength is as good as I've ever seen it. He's as tuned in and focused about doing everything he can. He's working like crazy out here when he gets his chances, he's leading like he does.
"I think he's ready to put together a heck of a year. There's no signs at all about his ankle or his knee that bothered him last year. He looks great running around. He's at top speed."
Wilson discussed his offseason changes, which in addition to some changes to his physical routine also includes, as detailed by ESPN.com, working closely with a nutritionist to slim down while eating a 4,800-calorie-per-day diet: "I'm only 28 years old. I want to play another 10 to 15 years at least, so for me mentally you have to start taking those things into consideration and so I've been doing that this whole offseason. Really kind of been doing it my whole career, but really intensifying it now. It's time to go. It's time to help our team be the best in the world. I'm trying to do everything I can to do my part and also help others too as well."
With Wilson fully healthy, Carroll hopes and expects to see something closer to the version of his quarterback that finished the 2015 playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL, throwing 24 touchdowns with just one interception over the final seven weeks of the season on his way to posting a league-best 110.1 passer rating. And being healthy won't just help Wilson improve as a passer and avoid pressure; a healthy Wilson is also very important to the running game. Not only did those injuries limit Wilson to a career-low 259 rushing yards, they also took away, to a degree, the threat of Wilson in the running game, making things easier on opposing defenses. With Wilson injured and several running backs banged up, the Seahawks got away from the running game more than they would have liked last year, something Carroll hopes to see change this season.
"We had to throw the ball more (last year), and it exposed some stuff," Carroll said. "It exposed the young linemen somewhat, it forced us into situations on the other side of the ball, all of that. That's why I'm so adamant about getting us back to the elements that we need to have in the running game that complement the rest of the team. I'm not pointing the finger and blaming anyone, but that's what was so glaringly obvious. When Russell wasn't equipped to run, it factored into the running game in the subtle ways—over the years he has made us unique. In one respect, we've learned how to play without it and still win the division and all of that, and we'll be better for that, but that's not the way I want to go. So I'll try to avoid that as much as possible."
And improved health isn't the only reason to be optimistic about Wilson in 2017 and beyond. For all Wilson has already accomplished, he plays a position where most players continue to improve several years into their careers. As Carroll detailed in the year-end press conference that follows his team's playoff loss at Atlanta, Wilson still has plenty of room to grow even after five years as an NFL starter.
"It will be just continued comfort with what's going on," Carroll said when asked what he’s expecting from Wilson heading into his sixth season. "His sense for anticipation of stuff, all of those things, just the feel. I think he'll feel the pocket better, I think he'll feel his receivers better, I think he'll feel the urgency more clearly. You just get better. Remember that we're comparing him to guys that have played for 11 and 12 and 13 years. We compare him to the best in the world, because he's worthy of that, but look at them when they were 6-years-old (in their careers). What were they doing, how many of those guys won so many games, how many of those guys were in the playoffs five times? I don't know how many games he has won but he has won probably as many as anyone who's ever started playing the game. He has been in position to do a lot of stuff and he has had a good team around him to do that, of course, but he has still got tons of growth.
"He's going to get better. He's going to get a lot better and it's just going to come naturally and there's no way to get there, but just he needs experiences and keep doing it… It's going to be thrilling to watch what happens in the next three or four years. Get him to year eight or nine and see where he's going to be, you know?"
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Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is in China this week leading a series of youth events with Nike and Alibaba Group. Follow his journey at his new website, TraceMe.com.