During the second half of the 2015 season, Russell Wilson was putting up numbers never before seen in the NFL. On his way to finishing the season with a league-best 110.1 passer rating, Wilson at one point had five consecutive games with three or more touchdown passes and zero interceptions. That means the list of NFL quarterbacks to throw three or more touchdown passes without an interception for five straight games now consists of Russell Wilson… and nobody else. And for good measure, Wilson also completed at least 70 percent of his passes in all five of those games.
Now the really good news for the Seahawks: Wilson should be even better in 2016 than he was last year. No position in football—and arguably in sports—takes longer to master than quarterback, which is why Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been quick to point out over the past few years that, as impressive as Wilson has been early in his career, there was still room for growth. Now, as Wilson prepares for his fifth NFL season, Carroll believes Wilson is really starting to come into his own.
"He has had a great camp," Carroll said at the conclusion of Seattle's offseason workout program. "You guys have asked me, 'When's he going to arrive?' or 'How long is it going to take?' and all that, and I kept telling you, it's going to be down the road. It takes four, five, six years—you don't know—for these guys to develop. He has made a clear step ahead. His command is all-time. His ability to move defenders with his eyes to set up some things—he's consistently doing that, almost unconsciously, he's so clued in. We saw him throw the ball all over the field throughout the offseason and he's been strong and accurate and really precise about stuff. He has had a great offseason.
"This is year five. It has taken all of this time to get to this point, and he'll still improve, but you can really see him as a real true vet now. I think coming off of last year, with the great success of the second half of the season, he has taken it right in the offseason and here we go. It's been our best offseason and I think it's an indication of the development of our guys."
Carroll isn't predicting that Wilson will spend an entire season posting numbers as gaudy as the ones he put up late last season—that's not realistic for Wilson or any other quarterback over a 16-game span—but what Carroll and everyone else saw in offseason workouts was the best version of Wilson that has been on the practice field in five offseasons.
Wilson making a throw that combined perfect timing with pinpoint accuracy was such a common sight in offseason workouts, it was almost easy to take for granted. But while much of the focus, rightfully, is on young players or on unsettled positions this time of year, what Wilson was doing day-in, day-out over the past month of OTAs and minicamp should not be overlooked.
"Russell's so calm, so cool. His body language has changed," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told 710 ESPN Seattle during OTAs. "Usually I can just read him, but now he's kind of sharpening me. Iron sharpens iron, and it's really glaring when you see us battle out there… He's moving down the field, moving the chains. He's making it look easy."
Wilson's biggest improvement midway through the season—and in turn the biggest change for the offense—was in his ability to get the ball out on time. Yes, pass protection also improved, but Wilson and the passing game putting an emphasis on getting the ball out quickly also aided that protection. Wilson's ability to buy time with his legs and make big plays downfield were and will continue to be a big part of Seattle's offense, but as he and his receivers continue to build chemistry, the Seahawks' passing game should also be able to continue with last year's late-season trend of a quick passing game that still features plenty of shots down the field.
"It was just emphasis," Carroll said. "We really emphasized quickness in getting the ball out. We called a lot more calls that dictated the rhythm and the timing, as opposed to kind of mixing things. So we just emphasized it and he was ready and willing. It really helped the protection progress. We made great strides, protection-wise. All the negative numbers went way down and we threw those out. It was mostly about the rhythm of it and expectations of it, and then it was the calling it with the consistency to keep us in that kind of approach to our game, so it worked out great for us. All the third down numbers went up, the red zone numbers went up, everything went sky-high."
And as much attention as there has been on an offensive line that will look quite a bit different this season, it isn't just on the five starters—whoever that ends up being—to keep the offense from going through some of the early-season ups and downs that plagued last year's team. If Wilson and his receivers can pick up where they left off in terms of the timing and rhythm in the passing game, that will take a lot of the pressure off of the line when it comes to pass protection. Not surprisingly, picking up where the offense left off in that area is a big focus for Wilson this offseason.
"In terms of football, I think the biggest thing is just being on time," Wilson said. "Continuing to work protections, continuing to work on the details of the game. Just learning as much as I can learn. Delivering an accurate football every time—be on time and on the money, that's what me and Tater (quarterbacks coach Carl Smith) always say. That is just kind of the thought process, and the chemistry we have right now with the receivers and the tight ends, it is as good as it has ever been. It is right at the right point, guys are looking good, they are catching all the signals, they are catching all the details of the game, they are making all the plays that we need to make, so it's exciting to see."
With players out until training camp begins in late July, take a look back at the best photos to come from the Seahawks 2016 offseason workout program.