Russell Wilson will enter 2015 with "a little bit more" responsibility.
That was the word from Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on Wednesday, when he revealed his fourth-year quarterback would assist first-year center Drew Nowak in pass protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
Nowak, who beat out Lemuel Jeanpierre and Patrick Lewis for the starting center job in Seattle with his play during preseason, takes over the spot occupied the past six seasons by Max Unger, who was traded to the New Orleans Saints this past offseason as part of the deal for three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham.
"With Max and Russell there was such a great chemistry there, and a veteran player that we were able to rely on Max a lot," Bevell said. "Now, you just put a little bit more on the quarterback. Russell's far enough along in his career as well where it's not an extra burden for him. He can really handle it. Drew's coming along each and every day, but it'll kind of be a tag-team effort there."
There's arguably no stiffer initial challenge for the Wilson-Nowak tag-team pass-protection effort to undertake than the one that's coming up this Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, a team that has sacked the Seahawks quarterback a total of 25 times through six games played the past three seasons. Bevell said this week's game plan will start with taking care of the pressure the Rams will look to generate with their defensive front, a unit that includes five former first-round picks in defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn, defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Nick Fairley, and 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh.
"A lot of guys who know how to get after the quarterback," Wilson said of the St. Louis D-line. "A lot of guys that play with a crazy motor, which is a good thing for them. I think ultimately though we're going to just have to do our job. That's what it ultimately comes down to and we're going to look forward to it. I know that when we get to go against our defense every day it prepares everybody. Our defensive line is pretty good, too, and that's an understatement."
Wilson explained that helping asses the opposing team's pressure packages won't be "that much different" than what he's been asked to do in the past.
"I just think that Max was a guy that was so experienced, he'd just get up there, call something right away, and then we'd change it from there," Wilson said. "This year, just kind of going into having so many different centers throughout training camp and all that, and Drew's first experience, a lot of the calls are on me from the get-go."
Wilson said he'll prepare for Sunday's game no differently than he has for any of the others. He'll still study the playbook, watch the film, and try to focus on situations he knows will come up during the game. If the Seattle signal caller had any concerns over how he'll handle his new role, or over how Nowak will hold up against one of the better defensive lines in the League, he wasn't showing it on Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Wilson said. "That's why you study all day. That's why you get prepared. Drew knows what he's doing, though. There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to be playing at a high level. There's no fear in terms of his ability to step up and play exceptional football."
Seattle coach Pete Carroll also expressed confidence in Nowak, pointing to the player's experience on the defensive side of the football. Nowak earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors at Western Michigan as a defensive tackle, converting to offense with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2012-13) and continuing the transition while working as a member of Seattle's practice squad last season.
"He's really smart," Carroll said of Nowak this week. "He's a very bright kid - look how fast he's picked it up. It's been remarkable that he's been able to pick it up. He has benefitted from the time that he was on defense, that does help guys recognize looks and schemes and things like that. Very wary football player, and it shows right away. It showed immediately."
Bevell believes Nowak has what it takes to "handle everything" in the offense, but said having Wilson take the reigns at the line of scrimmage could produce a more agile assessment of modifications that need to be made to help protect the quarterback.
"Drew knows all the calls, he can make all of the adjustments with the calls," Bevell said. "But sometimes the quarterback can see it a little quicker. So it'll be more Russell kind of leading the way, and then Drew working off of that."
As the 2015 season officially kicks off this week, the Seahawks continued preparation on "Turnover Thursday" to face the St. Louis Rams in this Sunday's opener.