Russell Wilson is fully expected to play on Sunday despite the ankle injury sustained in a Week 1 victory over Miami. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has said as much, and so has Wilson, who on Thursday declared he'll be "ready to roll" when the Seahawks play at Los Angeles on Sunday.
But if that ankle causes any physical limitations for Wilson—not that he thinks it will—the Seahawks are confident that Wilson, now in his fifth season, is much better equipped to play well at something less than 100 percent than he would have been early in his career.
"I do think that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "I think really great performers find a way. You don't have to be 100 percent all the time to be able to operate at a really high level. That's part of what's going on."
The development of Wilson has gone remarkably fast and without major hurdles, by NFL quarterback standards, but that doesn't mean he just walked into the league as he player he is now. The Wilson who changed the call at the line of scrimmage before throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin on Sunday, the Wilson who led the NFL in passer rating last season while carving apart defenses in the second half of the season, the Wilson who wants to be a “master at protection” this season, that player developed over years, not overnight.
"There's definitely a learning curve and there's still a learning curve," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We're always trying to get better. He'll tell you that there's always things that we're working on."
Wilson's maturation as a quarterback is relevant this week not just because it could help him if he is limited in mobility, but also because the Seahawks are facing the Rams, who are trying to develop a rookie quarterback they hope can someday become their Pro-Bowl-caliber, franchise quarterback. The Rams traded up to acquire Jared Goff with the first overall pick, and while for the time being they are bringing him along slowly as a backup, the time will come when he is an inexperienced quarterback making his first starts, just as Wilson was early in the 2012 season after he won the starting job with a strong preseason and training camp.
Only time will tell how that process plays out for the Rams and for Goff, but with the benefit of hindsight, Carroll admits now he might have handled things a little bit differently with Wilson if he had it to do over again. It isn't that Carroll thinks they rushed Wilson along too soon, but rather that they might have been too cautious with a quarterback who was uniquely qualified to handle all that comes with being an NFL quarterback right off the bat.
"I was pretty cautious with him early on," Carroll said. "I didn't want to overdo it. I wanted to make sure we didn't expose him too much to stuff he wasn't prepared for. I'll never get over the fact that he missed the chance to win that first game against the Cardinals on the road. We had three chances from the 10-(yard line) or something. If that would have happened on the first game, it would've set everything in motion a lot faster. It would've helped me too, I think. Unfortunately, we had to wait all the way to the Chicago game before we really said, 'OK, let's cut him loose and let him go.' I think I've learned something from that experience."
What did Carroll learn?
"That I might have been a little too protective early on. I wish I saw the signs a little sooner, I wish would have responded to what he was showing us and cut him loose a little sooner."
Instead of cutting Wilson loose after one game, the Seahawks waited to really take the reins off until the Week 13 game at Chicago. The Seahawks went into that game with a 6-5 record needing to get hot in order to make the playoffs, and late in the game Wilson took over to lead one go-ahead drive late in regulation, then another long drive to win it after the Bears tied the game to send it to overtime. The Seahawks went on to win their final four games by a combined 170-43 margin, and Wilson established himself as one of the game's best young quarterbacks.
"The Chicago game is still so vividly in my mind, what he did in that game, to get us back in it, it really showed us an elevation of quarterback play," Carroll said. "Everybody was trying hard, everybody did well in that game and all, but Russell kind of took over the game, and it was in the game that I remember saying, 'Bev, Bev cut him loose, don't hold him back, let's go.' You could just feel it. I just wish I would have felt that sooner; we would have been better earlier."
Carroll's hesitance to put too much on Wilson too soon, or the Rams' decision to not name Goff their starter right away is understandable, and often times that cautious approach is the right one for quarterbacks. While Wilson did thrive as a rookie, there are numerous cautionary tales of young quarterbacks being thrown to the wolves too soon, never to recover.
"It's any position, but the quarterback position is so far out there and there's so many opportunities to mess it up and to make mistakes and fall back and take all the blame," Carroll said. "All the stuff that can go along with it that can make it so much harder to focus and just keep making any progress. It's like any other young guy that we play, we try to help them be successful early so they can start to build the confidence to avoid what could happen, where they get kind of crushed, and maybe they drop the ball or they miss the play that loses the game, and then they have to live with all that stuff, now you're just trying to keep going, you know. You just try to keep that from happening until they're mentally stronger and prepared with enough backlogs of some successes to build on so they can withstand whatever the pitfalls are going to be, because they're going to happen for sure."
It's just that in the case of Wilson, he might have been ready to take on more even sooner than the Seahawks asked him to.
"Russell is a very unique player, he's a very unusual talent in his makeup and confidence and all that stuff," Carroll said. "You go back to Wisconsin, he did it in Wisconsin. He went up there in one camp and won the team over and had a great season. I just wish I would have bought in as much as he was telling me I should, to tell you the truth."
Bevell remembers that late-season emergence from Wilson in 2012 as well, but he sees in Wilson now a much more advanced quarterback than the one who turned heads with that dominant stretch of play that December. The earlier version of Wilson, while very effective, probably wouldn't have made the change at the end of last week's game to hit Baldwin with the game winner, nor would he have audibled to a deep pass to Jermaine Kearse on what ended up being the final play in overtime of the NFC championship game victory over Green Bay two seasons ago.
"I don't think four years ago he would have done that, and I don't think four years ago we would have had the reins loose enough where he could do that, just trying to bring him along," Bevell said. "Now, there's really so much stuff that he does and that he can do that obviously helps us to be so much more successful and be able to take advantage of opportunities as we get them.
"Before it was like 'just run it.' Now we have enough wherewithal to see things, to change protections, to change routes, to change whatever we need to to hit them if they're in a bad situation."
The Seahawks hope Wilson can on Sunday be the same athletic, dynamic escape artist that he has been throughout his career, but if his ankle does limit him a little bit, they're confident that years of development will help him be a dominant player even at something less than 100 percent.