There is no drama for the Seattle Seahawks when it comes to the most important position on the field, at least not when it comes to the starting job. Russell Wilson, coming off the best season by a Seahawks quarterback in franchise history, is the starter. There is no mystery there. When it comes to the backup job, however, that's as wide open of a competition as there is on Seattle's roster.
Tarvaris Jackson, Wilson's backup for the past three seasons, was not re-signed this offseason and remains a free agent, so what for years has been a settled 1-2 on Seattle's depth chart has now become Wilson followed by a big question mark.
The Seahawks signed TCU’s Trevone Boykin as an undrafted free agent just as the draft came to an end, and they also added Jake Heaps this offseason, a former Skyline High School star who went undrafted in 2015. Heaps spent camp last year with the New York Jets, then played for the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League along with current Seahawks receiver Deshon Foxx. So unless the Seahawks make a roster move to add a quarterback between now and the start of the season, which is always a possibility, the Seahawks will go into the 2016 season with a backup quarterback who has never taken an NFL regular-season snap. And if that ends up being the case, the Seahawks say they'll be comfortable with it because it will mean that Boykin and/or Heaps showed them enough in camp and in the preseason to make them feel like an experienced backup isn't needed.
"I'm comfortable going into preseason game one," quarterbacks coach Carl Smith said when asked if he would be comfortable with an inexperienced backup this season. "We'll find out more once they start playing real football. We weren't really comfortable with Russ before preseason Game 1 his rookie year, then you know, he did pretty good. It really doesn't count until it's against a live rush, but to this point it has been very good, we like both of them. They're throwing it well and they know what to do."
For Heaps and Boykin, the key at this point of camp isn't to show they're ready to start an NFL game, but rather to show that they're building towards being ready for the regular season. And according to Smith, head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, that incremental growth has been evident in both backup candidates in offseason workouts and now through the first week of training camp.
"Really he's handling it," Carroll said when asked about Boykin. "He is in command of the huddle. He has got a terrific physical ability—he can throw, he can run, he can do all that stuff in similar style. He can do the same things that we try to do with Russ. So now it is just a long journey to get him right in a lot of areas. He has got the makeup, it appears, and I am really excited about him. We know, we have watched him play enough, he's got playmaking abilities. He is always able to make things happen and in a very similar fashion as Russell did. We're very confident that he has a chance to help us… (And) Jake Heaps is lighting it up, he is having a great camp, so that is a very good position for us right now."
In the case of Boykin, it's no small thing that Carroll praised his command of the huddle considering Boykin comes from an offense where he almost never huddled.
"I would say I've made a huge leap forward," Boykin said. "From not even calling plays at TCU, to getting here calling plays in the huddle, getting in and out of the huddle, just small things like that that you might take for granted that I feel like I'm doing really well."
As Carroll has mentioned on multiple occasions, one of the reasons the Seahawks like Boykin is that he has arm strength, athleticism and play-making ability reminiscent of Wilson's, and while that doesn't guarantee him a roster spot or the backup job, it can't hurt his chances. If Heaps is the better quarterback throughout camp and preseason games, he'll win the job, but Boykin being able to do a passable Wilson impression would give the Seahawks an advantage should they ever have to turn to the backup quarterback in a meaningful game.
"It helps if you've got a guy in the same style so you can run the same plays in your offense," Smith said. "It's not essential—there have been time where there have been switches in quarterback style and it still worked well—but it's certainly easier if you've got the same style of guy."
And while Heaps may not have had the standout college career of a player like Boykin, he has the arm talent to have once been one of the top recruits in the nation, and he has looked every bit like a serious contender to win the job early in camp.
"Making the team, obviously, is the biggest goal that I have, and I'm working hard to make that happen," he said. "Just trying to come out and focus on each day—not thinking about the future, not thinking about yesterday, just thinking about today and how I can be the best player and the best teammate I can be. It sounds corny, but it's really the mindset you've got to have to make this work."
As an added bonus, Heaps is chasing his NFL dream a short drive from where he grew up, allowing his wife and their newborn son to attend practice every day.
"To be able to have my wife and my son and my family come right down the road, it's an amazing thing," Heaps said. "To be able to play for the organization I grew up dreaming of playing for as a kid, there would be nothing better. That's the goal, that's what I'm working hard every single day for, and that's what I'm focused on right now."
Yet for how much is at stake in the battle for the backup job—the Seahawks have almost always kept two quarterbacks, not three, on their 53-man roster under Carroll and general manager John Schneider—it has so far been a friendly competition between the two.
"It's an interesting dynamic," Heaps said. "From an outside perspective it might be hard to understand what it's like, but this a business, this is pro ball, so we both understand what our situation is, we're both competing, but we both rooting for each other at the same time. We're not hoping that one does better than the other. We're competing, but we're focused on how we can improve ourselves, not hoping that one guy does worse than the other. We're helping each other out in the meeting rooms, we get along really well, and it's just been a fun dynamic in that quarterback room between Russ, Trevone and myself."
And as Smith mentioned, Sunday's mock game, and even more so the preseason games, will be huge for both backup candidates.
"They're everything," Heaps said. "It starts in practice here, building that trust, showing what you're capable of, then you've got to go out and perform in the preseason games. For guys like me and Trevone, this is our season right now to prove our worth and show that we can add value to this football team."
Check out the best photos from the seventh day of Seahawks Camp held at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Saturday.