When the Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn, most fans expected he would be the team's starting quarterback. But coach Pete Carroll has given the job to a rookie, Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round.
It was fitting that Russell Wilson was named Seattle’s starting quarterback with a hug, not a handshake.
This is a decision that coach Pete Carroll embraced, after all. On a Sunday, two weeks before the regular season began, he summoned his rookie quarterback, gave him a hug and awarded him the job that amounts to the firmest commitment the coach has made to a quarterback since arriving in Seattle.
“It’s your opportunity now,” Carroll told Wilson.
It’s the biggest risk Carroll has taken since he became coach.
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It would have been safer to begin the season with Matt Flynn at quarterback. The Seahawks signed Flynn in March to a three-year contract, guaranteeing him at least $10 million. It wasn’t so much that the Seahawks were beholden to play Flynn, but the deal indicated they would.
Flynn had experience, after all, after four years as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy in Green Bay. With Flynn already here, there was certainly no need to put Wilson in right away.
That’s what makes Carroll’s selection of Wilson to be his starter even more intriguing. He didn’t have to do it. In fact, there was a very valid argument to be made for why he shouldn’t. But Wilson’s performance in the first three exhibition games proved so alluring that Carroll wouldn’t even characterize this decision as a risk.
“I don’t have any reservation about it at all,” Carroll said. “I don’t see him as a typical rookie quarterback. I see a young man that is ready to play some football. He does everything we’re asking the guy to do, regardless of how old he is.
So is Wilson going to be The One? You know, the quarterback Carroll finally settles down with.
He gave it a shot for a year with Seattle’s old flame, Matt Hasselbeck. He got to know Charlie Whitehurst for two years, and gave Tarvaris Jackson a go-round. And Flynn still might wind up getting a chance.
Through it all, Carroll has stated repeatedly that he wants his quarterback to be more of a point guard who’ll distribute the ball, so maybe it shouldn’t be a shock that he went with a shorter option in Wilson, who is 5 feet 11.
Well, actually 5-10-5/8 to be specific. Is height — or a lack thereof — a concern for Seattle’s rookie quarterback?
“If I was concerned about it, I wouldn’t be here, to be honest with you,” Wilson said. “My focus is on what I can control.”
Wilson is part of a broader trend in the league. There will be five rookies starting at quarterback in Week 1. There have never been more than two in any previous season.
But of those five teams starting rookies, Seattle finished with the best record last season, and the Seahawks hope they’re playoff contenders.
That won’t depend solely on how well Wilson plays, though. Seattle was one of the league’s best rushing teams the second half of last season, and you can expect what was already an industrial-strength defense to improve with experience as well as the addition of defensive end Bruce Irvin and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
It’s the kind of recipe that calls for a caretaker at quarterback, a bus driver whose job isn’t to hug the corners so much as keep the whole operation from skidding into a ditch. That’s why Flynn seemed to be the safer option. He doesn’t have as strong an arm as Wilson, nor is he as fast, but he has a four-year head start on Wilson in diagnosing and reacting to NFL defenses.
Instead, Carroll trusted what his eyes told him last month: Wilson was ready. His ability to run was a trump card because of the difficulty it poses for opposing defenses.
“A nightmare,” Carroll said.
That’s what led to Carroll’s decision on a two weeks before Seattle began this regular season that carries so many expectations. He gave his rookie quarterback a hug, congratulated him on his performance and told him he would be this team’s starting quarterback.
A surprise for Wilson? Nope. More exciting.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Wilson said. “I’m fired up about it, that’s for sure. I can’t wait.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.