The Seahawks QB is taking over Jon Gruden's famous role interviewing top prospects entering the NFL Draft.
A current quarterback in the NFL, and one whose public persona is mostly for choosing his words as carefully as he crafts his image, might not have seemed like the most logical fit to replace a man who had become one of ESPN’s ultimate wildcards.
But one night sitting in his hotel room in Orlando, Fla., ESPN producer Jay Rothman hatched on to the idea that Russell Wilson somehow made sense to take over for Jon Gruden’s famous role hosting the network’s QB Camp series.
As Rothman told it in a phone interview last week, one of Wilson’s confidants — Daniel Mogg, who is the creative director for Wilson’s West2East Empire marketing arm — approached him at the Pro Bowl in Orlando (ESPN was televising the game in which Wilson was playing). The two share a mutual friend and Mogg “just wanted to say hello to me,’’ Rothman said.
Rothman said the conversation brought back memories of Wilson having appeared on QB Camp in 2012 when Gruden memorably said Wilson was “too short, too short, too damn short’’ yet still predicted that Wilson would have “a very good career’’ in the NFL. Those were the kind of “unpredictable” comments, to use Rothman’s words, that were Gruden’s trademark
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Rothman and others at ESPN had recently met to try to figure out a logical successor to Gruden — who had just returned to coaching with the Raiders — for his QB camp series, something the network knew it wanted to continue (it first aired in 2010 as a one-hour special and grew into a series).
“I don’t know what triggered in my brain but I went back to my hotel room that night and kept thinking about Russell,’’ Rothman said.
The next day, Rothman and Mogg met for coffee, Mogg invited him to watch Wilson host one of the podcasts he was doing from the Pro Bowl (this one with Drew Brees) and pretty quickly Rothman said he was sold on something he said he hadn’t even been considering 24 hours earlier.
“Man what if we could get Russell Wilson to sort of take the next iteration of QB camp?’’ Rothman said. “What if it came from a place of a current player who can share his experiences, sort of a big brother-mentor with this incoming class?’’
Wilson quickly agreed and the result of the partnership will first hit air Tuesday on ESPN in what has been rebranded as QB2QB, four 30-minute shows with Wilson hosting interviews with four prospects in the 2018 draft — quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph and J.T. Barrett and running back Saquon Barkley. All four episodes debut Tuesday.
The shows were shot over a few days in late March at UCLA during that school’s spring break, with ESPN able to take over the second floor of the Bruins’ Wasserman Football Center and turn it into a set that resembled Wilson’s living room.
The timing of the shows meant some players who could have been considered had conflicts that couldn’t be worked out, but Rothman said Mayfield was “the number one guy we wanted all along’’ due in part to the comparisons he has drawn to Wilson.
The shows are part of what has been a busy offseason for Wilson, who also spent most of a week in spring training with the Yankees, among other endeavors.
But Seattle coach Pete Carroll said at the NFL league meetings last month he had no issue with Wilson’s participation.
“I think it’s unusual for anybody other than Gruden to do it,” Carroll said. “Jon’s been such a fixture. It’s something that’s dear to Russell’s heart, the whole quarterbacking and the art of it. I think he’s really going to have fun with it. Get a chance to meet some guys and share some stuff. I don’t think it’s any big deal.”
Rothman also said no one should worry Wilson was spreading himself too thin this offseason.
“Honestly, just getting to know him, I have no reservations that his eye is on the ball in terms of being the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks,’’ Rothman said. “He just happens to have other interests and a purpose.
“I heard some things going in like the Seahawks would be worried about Russell sharing some trade secrets. There are no trade secrets Russell is sharing. I think he enjoyed the series and enjoyed the experience of giving back and helping and playing that role because he was once in these kids’ shoes. His goal was to put himself back in these kids’ shoes and his mission for this season was ‘starting over.’
“That’s his big mantra, Starting Over. Not necessarily because of the transition in Seattle and the new players on the team but for his own self, starting over and sort of putting himself back in the shoes of these guys and where he came from.’’
Rothman says he also thinks the series could serve as a beginning, saying ESPNs’ goals is that Wilson can continue to host the show in future years.
“We are hoping this could be the start of something that is really cool and unique and for Russell it was a way of giving back in which he completely put himself out there and was interested in these players and is interesting and has a lot to share,’’ Rothman said.