Some fans believe Whitehurst is a more viable starting option than Tarvaris Jackson, while another segment believes Whitehurst is closer to losing the backup job to undrafted rookie Josh Portis than becoming the starter.
RENTON — It has been said the backup quarterback is the most popular player among fans.
That just hasn’t been said in Seattle. At least not since Charlie Whitehurst arrived last year.
That’s not to say there aren’t people who believe in him. The crowd chanted his name after he scrambled for a touchdown in a fourth-quarter relief appearance during the Seahawks’ home loss to Atlanta on Dec. 19. But there are others in town who insist they saw everything they needed to in his six games last season to be convinced he’s not a long-term option.
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Whitehurst isn’t universally popular so much as polarizing among Seahawks fans. Some fans believe Whitehurst is a more viable starting option than Tarvaris Jackson, while another segment believes Whitehurst is closer to losing the backup job to undrafted rookie Josh Portis than becoming the starter.
Quarterback is as close to politics as football gets, the position where knee-jerk reactions can become deep-seated personal convictions.
“The backup quarterback is always considered really highly,” coach Pete Carroll said, “until he has to play. Fortunately for Charlie, he did some good stuff. He won the division game that we needed against the Rams and did some good things. Charlie is having an excellent camp.”
Not so excellent that Carroll is considering a change in the depth chart. Jackson remains the starter, his familiarity with Seattle’s offense under new coordinator Darrell Bevell his trump card.
But Whitehurst is catching up fast. That was clear Thursday in San Diego when he completed 14 of the 20 passes he attempted in two quarters. And he got better as the game progressed, growing more comfortable throwing downfield. Of his five completions in the second quarter, none was for more than 7 yards. In the third quarter, he was 9-for-11 passing, with six of those passes gaining more than 8 yards.
“The competition that I thought would take a month or something, or six weeks or something, has really come on a little sooner,” Carroll said Saturday.
Does that mean the competition is open?
“No,” Carroll said. “Not yet. I’m sticking to where we said we were.”
That leaves Seattle’s No. 2 quarterback a No. 1 subject for debate. Just don’t expect Whitehurst to be listening. Thin skin makes you particularly vulnerable in the pocket, something Whitehurst knows almost intuitively.
“At this position, you’re going to get a lot of that,” said Whitehurst, whose quarterback father, David, played eight NFL seasons. “You do get a lot of credit, but you do get a lot of criticism, too. It really is something you just kind of get used to and tuning out, honestly.”
Whitehurst was a mystery when he arrived in Seattle. He hadn’t thrown a regular-season pass, and the worst thing you could say was that he was the third-string quarterback on a team where the starter never missed a game.
Seattle’s investment in Whitehurst wasn’t insignificant, but the team did not mortgage its future on the belief Whitehurst would be the starter. The Seahawks traded down 20 spots in the second round of the 2010 draft and gave up a third-round pick in 2011 to acquire him from San Diego, signing him to a two-year contract.
Last season did little to definitively determine Whitehurst’s career trajectory. He never came close to challenging Matt Hasselbeck for the starter’s role, but Whitehurst started two games and twice played a significant second-half relief role. One could point to several ill-advised interceptions and say that his decision-making was suspect. Or one could look at the Week 17 victory over the Rams and say Whitehurst was able to manage a game the way Carroll wanted.
Whitehurst has all the equipment of a starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s tall, owns a better-than-average arm and has excellent touch on his deep throws. He did, however, show a propensity for the most intolerable of all turnovers, getting picked off with his team threatening to score.
The debate on Whitehurst’s viability as an NFL starter remains undecided, something he knows better than anyone.
“I haven’t really proven either side,” he said. “I understand that.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org