The Seahawks quarterback’s offseason focus was to gain speed and strength. And while he is willing to talk about The Play that ended the Super Bowl, Wilson has spun his answers forward: Next time — always next time — he will come through.
RENTON — The run that bothered Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the one he used as proof of a hitch, was his longest run last season. In fact, it was the longest run of his career.
One of Wilson’s goals in the offseason was to improve his speed, and when the time came to work with his new trainer, Ryan Flaherty, Wilson emailed Flaherty a clip of his 55-yard run last season against the Cardinals.
He split two defenders up the middle, bolted down the sideline, stiff-armed a safety for an extra 10 yards. It is the kind of play that makes Wilson unique, and yet he saw something else entirely when he watched it.
Wilson by the numbers
849 Rushing yards last season, a career high.
55 His longest run, in yards, last season, also a career high
He saw a 55-yard run that should have been a touchdown. He saw himself get chased down by a defensive back. He saw points left on the field, a thought illuminated when the Seahawks missed a field-goal attempt to end the drive.
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“What he really wanted to work on was his second gear,” Flaherty said. “In his first gear, he could get away from people. But once he got into the open field, he always got caught by defensive backs because they had angles on him, and he couldn’t reach second gear.”
This was the offseason after The Play — with the Seahawks trailing the Patriots 28-24 in the final minute of the 2015 Super Bowl, Wilson’s pass from the Patriots’ 1-yard line was intercepted by cornerback Malcolm Butler.
No matter how much Wilson deflects it, the end to the game will hang over this season, one way or another. Even before the season ended traumatically, Wilson and his circle had decided to spend the offseason training in a suburb of San Diego, in a house by a golf course with his dogs.
It was a significant change from the previous offseason, when Wilson trained just outside of Los Angeles after winning the 2014 Super Bowl.
“We felt like this year would be a little more quiet, a little more remote,” said Trevor Moawad, Wilson’s mental-conditioning coach. “The right type of place for what Year 4 was going to bring. So we stayed in a very remote area where probably 70 percent of the people were over 60 years old.”
The theme of this offseason, from Wilson and his camp, was clear: He focused on training above all else.
Wilson said last week: “You guys may think that I am doing this or doing that all the time, but I always make sure that I train first. That’s a big part of my lifestyle.”
Which is not to say that Wilson was invisible this offseason. He hosted the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, was spotted with celebrity girlfriend Ciara and had dinner with President Obama. The perception is that Wilson stepped into a higher profile this year because of his relationship with Ciara, but he and the people around him say otherwise.
“He did some appearances here and there,” Moawad said, “but nowhere near as many as the year before.”
Flaherty is one of the country’s elite trainers, and he counts Carson Palmer and Serena Williams as clients. One of the things he did in his feeling-out interview with Wilson was to bring up the last play of the Super Bowl.
“I was really curious to see how he was going to be mentally after that,” Flaherty said. “Was he going to be mentally broken down and defeated? Was his attitude going to be bad?”
Wilson’s response, as Flaherty remembers it, was a reason he agreed to work with him one-on-one: “I’ll never forget that play, because it’s going to motivate me to get back there, and the next time I get back there to not let that happen again,” Wilson told him.
Wilson and Flaherty set out to regain Wilson’s speed. Wilson told Flaherty he felt his fastest at the NFL combine three years ago but thought he’d lost some of that. He didn’t know why, and he didn’t know how to get it back.
Flaherty noticed a flaw right away. Wilson ran with quick, smaller steps in the open field, which slowed him. He wanted Wilson to take larger, powerful strides.
Wilson nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last season, but he is not a burner. He is elusive because of his deception. How many times has he stuttered or changed speeds to slow a linebacker? He traverses in different gears more than in top speed.
“He knows he can create space with his feet and quickness,” Flaherty said. “But he felt like a lot of those plays and a lot of those rushing yards last year he could have gotten more.”
Flaherty wanted Wilson to improve his strength without adding weight. Flaherty said Wilson’s hex-bar dead lift improved by 150 pounds while he simultaneously lost six pounds.
When Flaherty tested him in April, Wilson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, nearly a full tenth of a second faster than he ran at the combine.
And yet even the hours of training weren’t removed from the past. In the most tired parts of Wilson’s three-hour training sessions with Flaherty, the trainer brought up the final play of the Super Bowl. A carrot on a stick.
“Look, this can’t be a moment that defines you,” Flaherty told him. “It has to be something that motivates you.”
Wilson has been characteristically defiant and positive when talking about the Super Bowl. He has spun his answers forward: Next time — always next time — he will come through. This is part of the persona Wilson has always displayed, and his stubbornness, his conviction, has served him well over the years.
At times, it can all feel dogmatic; it seems well beyond the qualifications of most humans to avoid some lingering effects from something so central to what they do. But this is how Wilson is, how he feels he needs to be.
“He’s not going to allow the media or the public to hear that it’s something that bothers him,” Flaherty said, “because if you talk about it, then it starts to become reality. And he doesn’t want to allow that to become something that defines him in any way. He’s open to talk about it. He’s not going to bring it up in the media, but he’ll talk about it.”
So Wilson controlled his own little corner of the world. He moved to a quiet suburb in San Diego, trained to get faster and protect his long-term health, and took his teammates to Maui.
The play will shadow him, if not in his mind than in the minds of everyone else. So will his new contract. Scrutiny comes hard at that level; his comments to Rolling Stone about “Recovery Water” and concussion prevention are proof of that.
This is in part what coach Pete Carroll talked to Wilson about the night before he signed his contract — the new terrain he was facing. And this is in part what Wilson spent his offseason preparing for — to show that even though so much is different, nothing has changed.