Thiel: Wilson's elevation gain no shocker

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on August 23, 2012 at 6:30 PM

Despite a practice-eating lockout, massive churn of talent, temp quarterback, numerous injuries to the offensive line and one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, the Seahawks in 2011 managed to get to 7-9.

So suddenly it's a big deal to give a couple of quarters with the starters to a talented rookie quarterback in a game that doesn't count? Why? Because veteran QB Matt Flynn's feelings will be hurt?

Please.

The bigger crisis is that starting center Max Unger has yet to deliver a snap to Russell Wilson in a game. They haven't worked out where to place the step-stool so the ball won't go over little Willie's head.

But even if the ball gets away, it probably won't go far, not with the seven-foot exclamation point and eight-foot question mark behind Wilson serving as his own impenetrable personal forest.

The Wilson saga is wonderful, trailing only Felix Hernandez in Seattle's summer sports must-read list.  But somehow QB practice reps have become a bigger story than the throwdown between Seattle cops and federal prosecutors.  Now that was a blockbuster: "Terminator" meets "Matrix."

But quarterback controversies are so much more fun, and we missed out on one last season.

A year ago, Tarvaris Jackson, relatively speaking, showed up a little before seasonal kickoff, was handed the ball and told to throw to the open guy. Mostly, he did, except on third-and-seven, which is why he probably won't be with the team when the regular season begins.

Granted, last season was a one-off because of the lockout, and the 2-6 start was a result of a lot of factors besides Jackson. But the Seahawks knew they had to upgrade. So without expending huge treasure, they hired Flynn and drafted Wilson. Flynn turned out so far to be good. Wilson is precocious. Starting Wilson Friday in Kansas City is the only way to find out the outer limits of that precociousness.

If he flops, well, he's a rookie, and he'll be a fine backup for the regular season. But this is kid who, while playing for two big-time schools in big-time conferences, threw 379 passes without an interception, an NCAA record.

Think about that.

No one in the history of college ball was that consistent. Jake Locker could throw picks in history class, much less against Oregon, and University of Washington fans still would think he's Tom Brady in purple. Locker did not have a great college career, yet in the 2011 draft was taken with the No. 8 pick by Tennessee, which this week named him the starter over ex-Seahawk Matt Hasselbeck. That's just the latest variable in judgments about quarterbacks in the NFL.

Wilson started 50 consecutive games and was only the fifth quarterback in college history to run for 1,000 and pass for 5,000. The guy's a freak, and in the most flattering way.

But hey, you don't have to believe me, or even his ever-so-lightly hyperventilating coach, Pete Carroll. Listen to his teammates.

"He's playing at a level you don't expect as rookie to be at right now," said Unger, the bearer of the foot-stool for his 5-foot-11 little buddy. "There are expectations for a guy you take higher in the draft -- not saying third isn't high -- but you just don't expect a guy taken in the third round to be in the running for the starting spot right away.

"To be in the competition this late says what he's done in camp."

And this from wide receiver Golden Tate:

"Russell wants to be the best. From the day I met him, he's been the first one in and the last one out. Even when we had those five weeks off, he was coming in at 7 a.m. getting his work done, them lifting, then throwing with whatever guys were here.

"In meetings, he asks very good questions. Watching the game, you can see the kid is good, but he has worked so hard to get there. He's so driven to be the guy for us."

Granted, his teammates aren't likely to rip him in public, nor are they oblivious to his rookie mistakes. But they are at least buying into the fact that he has earned a chance to get a shot at the starting job.

If Wilson does well Friday, life will grow complicated for Carroll and Flynn. But they're big boys. At least, that's the presumption. Flynn sat out practice Wednesday, with Carroll explaining it was to "rest his arm" and not because of injury, pout or punishment.

Whatever. The complexity for Carroll and Flynn is one of options, not desperation, as was the case last season with the hire of Jackson. The Seahawks have built a team where defense is first, the running game second and passing is third. They need a quarterback who can manage the operation, avoid mistakes and be as good in the red zone as midfield.

Practice reps are always helpful, but of dubious value as a primary metric for modern-era quarterbacks. You know what's a bigger deal on the Seahawks' offense? The fact that assistant coach Tom Cable is back.

"First time in my four years here that I've had the same coach two years in a row," he said. "We don't have to install anything, just improve what we have.

"Where we are now, from where we were a year ago . . . it's not even close."

The Seahawks against Denver Saturday rushed for 228 yards. That's the metric that will help determine whether Wilson can be a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL.

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