Archive for August, 2012

Marcus Lattimore (RB, South Carolina) vs Vanderbilt

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Tape from last night’s performance, where Lattimore recorded 110 yards from 23 carries, scoring two touchdowns. He also added 21 yards from three catches.

Time to do it all again

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Marcus Lattimore start for South Carolina vs Vanderbilt tonight

College football returns tonight, meaning we begin another eight month journey leading to the draft in April. Tonight I’ll be watching South Carolina and Vanderbilt, a game without multiple 2013 prospects of note. I remember a similar feeling during 2009’s re-start, when the Gamecocks met NC State. If only we knew that day we were watching Seattle’s future starting quarterback in Russell Wilson.

Marcus Lattimore will feature tonight which is good news. He picked up a serious knee injury last October and it’ll be interesting to see how he’s recovered. At his best Lattimore is a patient, intelligent runner with enough burst to make a good play a great play. He had a positive start to 2011 before the injury and looked destined to be a future top pick. Now he has to prove he’s the same player after a career threatening injury.

For Vanderbilt, check out receiver Jordan Matthews. Also keep an eye on SCAR’s Jadeveon Clowney – a big time pass rusher with elite physical tools who could be a top pick in 2014.

I’ll be recording Washington State vs BYU to watch tomorrow, paying particular attention to the impact Mike Leach is having on receiver Marquess Wilson. He more than anyone stands to benefit from the Leach offense, and Wilson has the potential to move up the receiver rankings with a good year.

Other games I’ve got on the schedule for this week:

Boise State vs Michigan State
Alabama vs Michigan
Arkansas State vs Oregon
Clemson vs Auburn
Georgia Tech vs Virginia Tech

Unusually this year we’re not immediately looking down the list to find where the quarterback prospects are playing. Russell Wilson is making people believe the Seahawks have solved that particular dilemma, but we’ll file this one under ‘wait and see’ for now. The team hasn’t drafted a quarterback in round one for 19 years, and it might still be a conversation we have, unfortunately, in 2012.

The more optimistic outlook says Wilson will do just fine allowing us to concentrate on other positions. Signing Terrell Owens and Braylon Edwards this summer is a firm indicator that the Seahawks are still not completely settled at receiver. There’s a huge question mark hanging over Sidney Rice – he has the talent, but can he stay healthy? This could become the teams defining need this year. Unless they’re going to suddenly turn into Green Bay or New Orleans (unlikely, given the run-centric offense) they’re not likely to be spreading things around and splitting the production. A go-to receiver is needed on offense.

I think receiver is one of the most underrated positions in the league. A series of bad picks by Matt Millen in Detroit scarred a generation it seems, but a dynamic receiver can be such a vital piece to an offense. That’s not to say you can’t find receivers outside of the first round – six of the top-10 receivers in 2011 weren’t taken in the first 32 picks. But it’s an area Seattle will undoubtedly look at. Interestingly, two tight-ends were in the top-10 (Gronkowski, Graham) which goes to show how the game has changed in recent years.

Some WRs/TEs to keep an eye on: Robert Woods (USC), Keenan Allen (California), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame), Da’Rick Rogers (Tennessee Tech), Joseph Fauria (UCLA), Levine Toilolo (Stanford), Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas), Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Josh Boyce (TCU), DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson), Kenny Stills (Oklahoma), Keenan Davis (Iowa)

Other needs could emerge during the season. The Seahawks stand to benefit from a good, young three-technique. You can never have enough good cornerbacks. The offensive line could come back into focus. But overall the Seahawks just want the freedom to let the board come to them. The four first round picks they’ve spent so far have heavily leaned towards need. Next time a Mark Ingram or David DeCastro drops into the 20’s, the Seahawks would probably like the opportunity to take the value on offer. If Seattle wins as many games as people are starting to believe, they’ll be able to do just that.

Why Seahawks will be better in 2012

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Whatever your feelings about Tarvaris Jackson, he leaves Seattle with a lot more respect than when he arrived. At times last year he was a frustrating watch, but he was out there every week fighting to help his team with a torn pec. He did a job for the Seahawks when they needed a quarterback post-lockout. The guy deserves some credit as he moves on to Buffalo.

Of course, it was difficult to acknowledge this at the time. When the coaches in Seattle were talking up Jackson as much as possible, there was understandable concern. Do they really believe in this guy? Long before Matt Flynn was signed or Russell Wilson drafted, the suggestion seemed to be Jackson could be the future. Fans probably would’ve been a little easier on Jackson if only they knew what the future had in store.

So despite his new-found respect, there’s no getting away from the fact the Seahawks lost games last year because the quarterback play just wasn’t good enough.

Week 4 vs Atlanta – Jackson actually dragged the Seahawks back into this one with the score 24-7 at half-time. But he still turned the ball over twice and when he had the chance to lead a game winning drive, he came up short. The contest ended with an ambitious missed field goal and a 30-28 scoreline in favor of the Falcons.

Week 7 vs Cleveland - This was on Charlie Whitehurst, who started instead of the injured Jackson. Whitehurst threw 12-30 for 97 yards and a pick. He also lost a fumble. Marshawn Lynch also missed this game and the Seahawks slumping offense managed only a field goal in a 6-3 defeat.

Week 8 vs Cincinnati – Despite the 34-12 scoreline, this was a close game. The Bengals were far from perfect but Seattle’s ineptitude on offense made life easy for Cincy. Both Seattle quarterbacks played and both struggled. The game ended with a pick-six from Jackson. Ho-hum.

Week 12 vs Washington – For the most part this one appeared to be in the bag. The Seahawks led 17-7 after a Golden Tate touchdown in the fourth quarter. Job done? Maybe not… Washington responded with a couple of scores and Seattle’s offense fell asleep. This was a typical Tarvaris Jackson performance for me. His stat line wasn’t awful, he made some good plays. But in the fourth quarter when just one decent drive was required to wrestle back some momentum, he couldn’t get it done. Seahawks lose 23-17 to a lousy Washington outfit.

Week 16 vs San Francisco – The margin of defeat on Christmas Eve was two points. Jackson had the ball twice driving for a game-winning field goal. He failed twice. The final nail in the coffin came when he threw out of bounds on fourth down. Good grief.

Week 17 vs Arizona – Another game that seemed to be in Seattle’s control, but when the Cardinals rallied the Seahawks needed something, anything, on offense. They couldn’t drive for the game winning score in normal or overtime. This was eerily similar to the San Francisco defeat and Jackson’s final act as the starting quarterback was a lingering disappointment.

I’m not trying to argue Seattle should’ve won all of these games. You can’t expect your quarterback to pull it out of the bag every time. It’s also worth stressing that the defeats listed above weren’t solely down to the quarterback(s), but certainly he/they played a significant part. Had the Seahawks won 50% of the games above they would’ve had a 10-6 record. Even just a couple of victories gives the team a winning record. They couldn’t get it done.

Without wishing to tempt fate, I do think Russell Wilson will give the Seahawks the missing piece of the puzzle. He’ll no doubt have a few off-weeks as a rookie, but that’s OK. The Seahawks boast a strong defense that could be a top-five unit this year. They have a productive run game. They just need the guy pulling the strings who can lead the game-winning drive and be a little more consistent behind center.

In the last two seasons I don’t think it’s a coincidence Matt Hasselbeck and Tarvaris Jackson combined for a 26:30 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season and the Seahawks had a losing record each time. Hasselbeck was -5 in 2010, scoring just 12 touchdowns. Jackson was +1 but only managed two extra scores. Hasselbeck was 28th in 2010, above only Brett Favre, Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen. Jackson ranked 22nd for touchdown passes last year, level with Colt McCoy and below both Rex Grossman and Matt Moore.

Basically, it’s not hard to identify one area where the Seahawks are due a major improvement.

Wilson may not take it from one extreme to the other (three quarterbacks scored 40+ touchdowns in 2011), but if he can score a modest 1-1.5 touchdowns per game this year, he’ll reach between 16-24 in total. He avoided turnovers like the plague in college, but even a pick every game will give him a healthy ratio. He could easily record an improvement on the 20:13 Andy Dalton managed as a rookie in Cincinnati – and he made the playoffs.

Still not convinced? How about four recent similar comparisons. Matt Ryan in Atlanta went 16:11 and helped the Falcons go from 4-12 to the playoffs as a rookie. They’ve remained competitive since, with a solid ground game and decent defense. Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed a 15-1 record as a rookie surrounded by an elite defense and run-attack. He was 17:11 for touchdowns-to-interceptions in his first year. Joe Flacco in Baltimore? 14:12 as a rookie and the Ravens, like Atlanta, had a major turnaround. Mark Sanchez struggled but didn’t hamper his team too much to stop them making the playoffs and then, the AFC Championship game in his first year.

Starting a rookie is never ideal, but it’s becoming more and more common. Being a rookie quarterback alone isn’t really the biggest issue – it’s the supporting cast. If you start a rookie in week one with a bad defense and no playmakers, don’t expect success. A lot of teams picking early in the draft who take quarterbacks are in that position. Cam Newton is the rare exception of a player who excelled in such circumstances. Put a good defense on the field, run the ball well and a rookie can prosper.

The passing game is the one area Seattle can dramatically improve this year with relative ease, even with a rookie starting. If such an improvement warrants two more victories, they’ll earn a winning record in 2012. I suspect they can surpass 9-7. They have the defense. They have the running game. All that’s missing so far is the quarterback. Maybe they found the answer, at last?

Strangely enough, you know who Russell Wilson reminds me of?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

As I watched Wilson’s masterful performance against the Chiefs, I was reminded of how Wilson finds success by doing all the little things. On a protection breakdown, Wilson was flushed up the middle of the pocket. Leon Washington realized things were getting ugly and hustled into the flat on the right to serve as a safety valve. Wilson made the decision to run. Eric Berry stood in Wilson’s way, probably serving the Chiefs “spy” role on that play. Berry was there to stop Wilson from running. Wilson made a subtle move in Washington’s direction, then made a quick and deceptive fake shovel pass. Berry bit on it so hard that it turned him around completely, only to find out seconds later what had really happened. Wilson ran untouched for over 30 yards before gracefully jogging out of bounds.

It was that little “flick” that Wilson did. That little in the moment thing he did was the difference between five yards and thirty plus. When I scouted Wilson before the draft, what really blew me away was how well he did all those little things. His pump fakes were hard, fast, slingy and deceptive- the kind a DB almost has to bite on. I haven’t been watching football terribly long, but they were the nicest pump fakes I’ve seen. His play action could often fool not just linebackers, but cameramen as well. Brett Favre had that patented ability to make weird, ugly plays on the fly that worked. Wilson has that same ability, but even his “sandlot” plays look polished and oddly professional.

Origins

When Ichiro was just beginning his pro career in Japan, he discovered an unconventional swing. In Japan there is a saying: “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.” Ichiro faced intense pressure from hitting coaches and management to alter his swing to a more conventional one. Ichiro was 18 years old, and his then manager, Shozo Doi, was adamant that Ichiro reform his swing and even mockingly called it “the pendulum.” Ichiro didn’t relent, and in his professional debut, hit a home run off of (legendary over there) pitcher Hideo Nomo. Doi didn’t care, and demoted Ichiro back to the minors that same night. Eventually though, Ichiro’s results became hard to ignore, and he would go on to earn three straight MVP awards in Japan while essentially performing like his nation’s equivalent of Ted Williams.

Ichiro would later face further skepticism when he opted to hop the pond for the Majors. At the time, there was a major stigma in the States against Japanese position players. Some pitchers had found success in the majors but no hitter had ever made the leap and played at an all-star level. This perception was exacerbated by washed up or failed major leaguers signing in Japan and posting monster seasons. Thus, when Ichiro hit the posting system, there was a collective yawn across the major leagues. Seattle ended up posting the highest bid, a measly $13 million sum for one of the best pure hitters in Japan’s history.

Russell Wilson was told that he was too short pretty much from the very beginning. Despite being a star high school QB, he was only a two star recruit. The team that did sign Wilson, NC State, was holding a five man open competition at QB. Wilson, a true freshman, would beat out some heavily favored candidates and win the starting job outright. He’d have a very strong college career, culminating with the best statistical season in Division I history in 2011 for Wisconsin. It was a season in which his Badgers might have made the championship game if not for just a couple of freak plays.

Then the NFL draft rolled around, and almost everybody said he was too short. Amongst a sea of doubters, Jon Gruden stood as the voice of reason. He had only briefly known Wilson from his FFCA taping, but you could tell an impression had been forged. He stumped for Wilson with all the bias and passion of a proud father. Wilson’s talent deserved a top pick, but his height was a different story. Wilson would fall to the mid-third round pick. Shortly before his selection, the topic of Wilson came up, prompting Gruden to make his now legendary rant against Mel Kiper Jr. The frustration was evident on Gruden’s face. He knew as well right then as we know now that Wilson had been hosed out of millions of dollars, and a degree of opportunity, all for a form of discrimination that was both unfair and undeserved.

Thankfully, John Schneider was part of John Gruden’s Russell Wilson fanclub. He knew how good Wilson was, but also knew that something is only worth what people will pay or it. The Mariners won Ichiro because they knew something was there, but didn’t need to bet the farm to get him. The Seahawks did the same, by riding the line and grabbing Wilson at the latest possible spot they realistically could have in the third round.

Ichiro is a likely, if not slam dunk Hall of Famer. His unconventional swing worked just as well in the Majors as it did everywhere else. Clearly, if MLB GMs had anticipated this, there is no way that a team would have won his services for a meager $13 million bid. With the cat out of the bag, Japanese stars that followed Ichiro would earn two or even three times the posting fees for their Japanese teams, even though none of them would have the impact Ichiro did. In the same way, NFL GMs will soon look at Russell Wilson with that same air of draft day regret- wondering how they allowed themselves to pass on the Tom Brady they could have seen coming.

The catalyst

When Ichiro joined the Mariners in 2001, the team was coming off a surprise playoff run, but had just lost one of the most talented free agents in team, if not league history, when superstar Alex Rodriguez bolted to Texas for a record quarter billion dollar contract. The Mariners were a balanced team, with few stars but quality throughout. It was the blueprint of Pat Gillick, who subscribed to a “Honda Civics” style of roster construction, opting for cheap, quality veterans at every spot instead of just a few superstars on the same budget. There were some in the media who believed that the Mariners could be a good team, maybe even a wildcard. What none could anticipate was the historic 116 win season the Mariners were on the verge of.

Unlike football, baseball is not a game that can easily turn it’s fortunes on just one player. Value is spread throughout a starting roster pretty equally. An all glove shortstop could help you just as much as a no defense slugging outfielder. Even the best players in the league are only worth about 8 to 10 wins on their own. Statistically, Ichiro was “only” worth 7.6 wins that first season. But he, along with a surprise year from Brett Boone, created an atmosphere that infected the clubhouse and allowed that team to play way above their talent level, leading to a historic season. Ichiro didn’t just win Rookie of the Year, he won MVP. There were better performers that season, most especially Jason Giambi (worth 9.3 wins while playing for the 2nd best team in the Majors). But what Giambi lacked was that igniting factor that Ichiro brought. The energy and excitement Ichiro brought to the city of Seattle and the national storyline he created was what made that season truly special. Everything about Ichiro and that team, it was one of the most stunning developments in recent baseball memory.

Russell Wilson walked onto Wisconsin’s campus last year an outsider with some fanfare but undefined expectations. A few months later, he left as the unquestioned greatest quarterback in Wisconsin Badger’s history. He didn’t just play well, he elevated the team around him. John Schneider might say he “tilted the field.”

Wilson is not yet a superstar in the NFL. Yet I say the following with the certainty of Yoda: He will be. Give it a month or two. But even if Wilson flops horribly for some reason, he’ll still have fans falling over each other for his autograph in Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh, North Carolina; and even in Richmond, Virginia, Wilson’s hometown. Everywhere Wilson goes, he turns doubters into believers, and he doesn’t take long to forge converts.

Before Wilson made his presence known, the Seahawks were by no means a bad football team. Many a savvy pundit had the Seahawks pegged as a darkhorse candidate in the NFC West, if not a strong candidate for a wildcard berth. But now that Wilson has proven his game can translate, it’s a whole new ballgame. The slingshot effect of going from Tarvaris Jackson and his struggles in the same areas where Wilson is strongest could be enormous and should not be taken lightly. Similar to Gillick’s “Honda Civics” type franchise model, this is a team with good to great talent at almost every position on the field, with a quarterback who has a chance to shock the world while energizing and elevating all those quality players around him. If I was a fan of any other NFL team with championship aspirations and I was paying attention, I’d be very worried about these Seattle Seahawks.

The little things

Ichiro wasn’t just a savvy hitter. He was also a savvy base runner and a polished, effortless defender. He could lay a clutch bunt with the best of them, and sometimes he’d even avoid the out. He played with a complete lack of nerves. Everthing was just a routine to Ichiro. Every day, he just followed that same process, almost like he was running off an internally programmed algorithm. Ichiro might as well have been a robot. Despite that robotic demeanor and taciturn tendencies, Ichiro knew how to charm. He gave legendary profanity laced pregame speeches in the All-star games he attended, every single one of which was won by his American League team. He once said that if he wanted to play a game in Cleveland he’d have to punch himself in the face because he’d be lying. And he just knew how to be cool in pretty much every corny Mariners commercial he was cast in.

Wilson is that same kind of cool cat. Wilson’s focus and consistency brings a new meaning to the phrase “living in the now.” He is never thinking about what might be happening if he misses this next pass, or thinking about the previous pass that wasn’t his best. He has that single minded focus of just making the play he has in the moment the best play he can make, and allows for nothing else.

Wilson is not a conventional charmer. You’d have to search long and far to find a press conference with more canned cliches. In improvisational situations, he lacks the quick wit of a Matt Hasselbeck or the Andre Benjamin styled cool weirdness of RG3. Yet he does have his moments. Like saying “Go Hawks” at the end of an interview, or at that cold killer look in his eyes when in the moment. I think he loves Jesus too much for the profanity laced pep talks though.

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to realize this connection. I’m pretty sure I saw someone else make the “icon” comparison a few days ago. It wasn’t until just before I wrote this that the full weight of the comparison really sank in for me. Ichiro was so much more than an icon. He was a hero to his fanbase. There is an emotional connection to Ichiro that just doesn’t really exist even with any of the Mariners other superstars. Fans loved Edgar, Junior, and Randy, but Ichiro took star fandom to a different level.

With Wilson, I’m seeing the same thing. Everywhere he goes, he forges and immediate and unmistakable emotional connection to everyone he comes in contact with. A connection that goes beyond respect. It reminds me of how at Gettysburg the confederate soldiers begged Robert E. Lee to rescind his retreat order. Their cause may have been misguided, but their devotion and belief in their general was unshakable, to the point of laying down their lives without hesitation.  That same kind of aura follows Wilson everywhere he goes.

There was a classic moment on Seinfeld where Jerry talks about how we don’t root for the players- we root for the laundry they are wearing. It’s so true. I mean, just look at the fan reaction to Braylon Edwards before and after he signed here. Or to Mike Williams before and after he was cut. We like our players, but we like winning more.

But some players, they transcend that and actually establish that rare sense of emotional endearment to the fanbase. A good example of this was Matt Hasselbeck, who still had many passionate supporters even after struggling for three seasons. Even those who wanted to move on from Hasselbeck still remember the good times and will miss the man off the field.

Ichiro was one of those rare players that was much more than an icon. The word “fan” is rooted from the word “fanatic,” and everywhere Wilson has gone, he’s transformed skeptics into fans and fans into fanatics. You can already see it. He’s doing it again. Soon, Wilson will be an icon. And soon after that, he’ll be more than an icon. For a long time to come.

Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee) vs Cincinnati

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Russell Wilson named Seattle’s starting quarterback

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

These are exciting times for the Seattle Seahawks.

For years the team has been crying out for an injection of youth and quality at the quarterback position. Matt Hasselbeck carried an injury-hit offense to the playoffs in 2007, but was never quite the same after that. Charlie Whitehurst never seriously challenged to be the long term successor and Tarvaris Jackson was a convenient stop-gap. Matt Flynn arrived with some degree of expectation but may not get his chance in Seattle. It’ll be 20 years next April since the team last invested a first round pick at quarterback – an abnormally long time for a NFL franchise. After announcing Russell Wilson as the starter today, Pete Carroll will be hoping to extend that run to 30 years.

Naturally some perspective is required because Wilson remains an unproven commodity. The decision today isn’t so much exciting because it guarantees success. Far from it. Wilson will have to tackle some tough opponents this year, learn to deal with adversity, master the speed of the pro-game and cope with teams game-planning him specifically. Weeks 3-8 in Seattle’s schedule look particularly difficult, including games against Green Bay (H), Carolina (A), New England (H), San Francisco (A) and Detroit (A). The Seahawks need to start fast against Arizona (A) and Dallas (H) and there won’t be any time for rookie mistakes.

What’s more, Matt Flynn isn’t going to go away. If Wilson doesn’t start particularly well, I don’t think Carroll will hesitate to review today’s decision. Despite winning a fiercely contested competition this off-season, really the hard work starts now.

Despite all of this it is still an exciting time. Wilson hasn’t just looked like a potential starter in pre-season, at times he’s looked like a seasoned veteran. While other rookies like Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden have struggled, Wilson has excelled. And he isn’t going into this thing alone – Seattle ended last season with a productive running game and top-end defense. As long as Wilson doesn’t turn the ball over, he should get enough support to at least feel comfortable.

Since the Kansas City game I’ve read multiple articles talking about the struggles of rookie starters in the NFL. That’s great – you can always find a statistic somewhere to back up whatever argument you want to make. The fact is Russell Wilson’s fate is yet to be determined and whatever has happened in the past will have little influence. If no rookie starter had ever been successful in the NFL, it still wouldn’t stop Wilson having a shot to be the first. If Wilson fails, it won’t be down to conventional wisdom. All we can go off for now is the pre-season tape, and Wilson has shown veteran qualities in the three games so far. He’s earned this chance.

More importantly, he’s shown playmaking qualities. And that is what the Seahawks are crying out for at quarterback. You get the feeling Wilson is capable of making things happen, that he’ll be an asset to this offense rather than just the guy pulling the strings. Teams will be working out ways to stop him, rather than working out ways to stop the guy he hands the ball off to. Wilson brings a dynamism to the quarterback position not often seen in Seattle’s history over the years.

And who knows… maybe he won’t be a flash in the pan. Maybe – just maybe – this is Seattle’s next franchise quarterback? Perhaps this is the beginning of an era, the moment we’ll look back on in a decade and recall the day Russell Wilson was given the starting job. Instead of looking at a variety of different college quarterbacks this year in a vain search to find that elusive starter, maybe we’ll be looking for a complimentary receiver, tight end or offensive lineman? Instead of debating that big move up the board ‘because we have to’, Seahawks fans will be debating who is the best player available?

The 2012 season may be a year early for this team to fully deliver on its promise. Even so, nobody can deny that Carroll and Schneider have injected so much energy into this franchise. People are talking about the Seahawks, not just in Seattle, but nationally too. The players appear hungry for success, they have the kind of swagger usually associated with Ray Lewis’ Baltimore or Tom Brady’s New England. And maybe, just maybe, the most important question mark remaining on the team was answered today. Whether you think Russell Wilson is the long-term answer or not, it’s going to be exciting finding out what happens next.

Why I got it wrong with Russell Wilson

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Russell Wilson appears to be days away from winning the starting QB job

I’m happy to admit when I get something wrong. I think people who write draft blogs should be prepared to do that. Not with every bad judgement, but certainly with some. Just to balance it out. There’s a lot of self-appreciation from people who pontificate on the draft but not enough humbling honesty sometimes.

I ignored Russell Wilson because of his height. That was a big mistake.

Regulars will know I didn’t give Wilson enough respect on this blog. Overall we looked at a great number of quarterbacks, including those expected to go in the later rounds. We spent a great deal of time looking at guys like Kirk Cousins and Chandler Harnish. We looked in detail at Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. We dissected two quarterbacks who didn’t even declare in Matt Barkley and Landry Jones.

But we didn’t spend enough time looking at Russell Wilson. Or at least I didn’t – Kip was right on the mark on this one. A lot of people claim – with hindsight – that they always liked a certain guy. Kip genuinely did feel that way and often spoke of not only his talent, but his fit in Seattle’s offense. I think I recall him saying he was virtually the ideal quarterback fit for the Seahawks. He looks pretty smart today.

In April he called the pick of Wilson in round three his favorite of any draft. “There was no pick I ever enjoyed hearing in the moment more than this one. I’ve followed the draft as a Seahawks fan for about 20 years, and this was only the second time that a pick made me leap off the couch and scream in celebration. The other time was in 2007 when Brandon Mebane somehow reached our third round pick and the Seahawks didn’t repeat their mistake of passing on him in the previous round.”

Prior to the draft he ranked Wilson as the #3 quarterback in the draft, behind only Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. “His line at Wisconsin was one of the tallest in the country and taller than many NFL lines, and yet he had almost zero height related problems because the scheme and his own talent allowed him to find throwing lanes to look through. I honestly worry more about Wilson’s stats being inflated by Wisconsin’s high completion rate offense more than I worry about his height. If Wilson goes to the right kind of offense, namely an offense just like Seattle’s, I believe that at a minimum he’ll be one of the league’s best backups, with a chance to be a good starter.”

Yet as good as Kip looks because of his sound judgement, I’m not afraid to admit I didn’t do a good enough job looking at Wilson. We published some tape, broke it down and I answered the occasional question, but he clearly warranted more than that. We’ve seen that in pre-season and in two weeks time he could be a starting NFL quarterback. It’s not so much missing on a player because you can’t expect to get them all right, but having dedicated so much time to the quarterback position in general… Wilson deserved more time.

A few people have accused me of being one-sided in favor of Wilson from day one. I’m happy to say I thought Wilson should start this year pretty much as soon as he was drafted. But that wasn’t based on some ridiculous crush based on college tape. I was pretty lukewarm on Wilson in college. My argument for him starting had nothing to do with preference to Wilson or Matt Flynn. On May 1st, shortly after Wilson was drafted, I wrote the following:

I think Russell Wilson has every chance to become the rookie starting quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks.

I see his (Flynn’s) signing as opportunistic on Seattle’s behalf, taking another chance on a guy who was available at the right price due to a weak market. But if one of the other quarterbacks performs better in camp, I have absolutely no doubt at all that Flynn will be the backup. Seattle has carried an expensive backup quarterback for the last two years. They’re prepared to go with the right man, not the man who cost the most money.

There’s been no reference to patience with Wilson, just a lot of talk about how he’s beaten the odds. I get the feeling they truly believe Russell Wilson could be the quarterback not just for the future, but maybe even for now. After all, hasn’t Carroll talked about young quarterbacks starting early in the modern NFL? Has he not discussed his willingness to play young players, even at the most important position? Has he not backed that up by thrusting rookies into starting roles with some impressive results?

It could be argued that Wilson even has a slight edge, given the investment of a valuable third round pick in his services. That to me is more of a commitment than the salaries due to both Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn in 2012.

If the Seahawks are as excited about Wilson as they suggest, I think they might as well start the guy. Hey, they’ve talked the pick up to the extreme so let’s see what he has. Rookies start early in this league, and had the Seahawks drafted Wilson in round one a lot of people would expect him to be the quarterback in 2012. I get the impression that Schneider and Carroll see Wilson as a round one talent who fell due to height anyway.

But more than anything I just think the Seahawks need to know what they’ve got. Whether it’s Flynn, Wilson or Jackson starting next season, if the performance is still inadequate there’s going to be increasing pressure on the team to draft a quarterback in round one, even if it requires a Robert Griffin III style trade. If the Seahawks go 7-9 again next year with the quarterback again throwing more picks than touchdowns, it’ll be difficult to justify why the guy who couldn’t beat out the struggling 2012 starter is now the right man to lead the team. Fans and media will grow impatient as the next free agent or mid-round pick is trotted out as the starter.

And quite frankly it’s about time Seattle had some direction at the position beyond a year or two. If they need to go big for a Matt Barkley or Logan Thomas next year, then let’s find out if that’s the case.

The run game and defense will help Seattle win another 7-8 games. The difference between sticking in that range and progressing to 9-12 wins will be improved quarterback play. So let’s see if Wilson is up to the job. The Seahawks need some long term planning at the position. They can’t change the quarterback every year. First Hasselbeck, then Whitehurst, then Jackson. Will it be Flynn this year and if he fails, Wilson next year? Having a revolving door at quarterback will hold this team back. Eventually, they need to commit.

Next years class could have the answer. Barkley, Thomas, Wilson. It still stands to reason that eventually Seattle might have to go big on a quarterback. If Flynn produces a performance comparable to Jackson, and Wilson doesn’t start as a rookie, there’s going to be some pressure to be proactive again but this time in round one… to get a quarterback that can give this regime a chance to deliver a consistent playoff challenger. It’s another reason why Seattle has to be prepared next year. They need to know if the big move is necessary or if they’ve already found the answer. They’ll only find out that answer by starting Russell Wilson. So why not?

That was my argument for Wilson starting. I think there’s at least some logic involved there, rather than, “OMG Russell Wilson is a great quarterback and must start!!!”

Perhaps I would’ve been saying such a silly remark had I actually seen past the height and concentrated on the football? It still bugs me that I was so short sighted there. I actually thought Wilson would last deep into the draft – purely because teams would’ve graded him as another Seneca Wallace with maximum value as a solid backup. I got it wrong. It’s probably one of many reasons why I write a blog rather than work in Seattle’s front office. But the likelihood is my line of thinking was shared in many front offices around the NFL. And that’s to their detriment it seems.

I do have an excuse and so do they. It was due to the famous ‘conventional wisdom’ that we’ve heard so much about this off-season. I saw a 5-10 quarterback and didn’t expect he’d translate. And here he is, churning out the yards and scoring drives on a NFL roster.

I like to see each draft as an opportunity to learn. That doesn’t just mean the negatives, it’s the positives too. For every bad projection there’s usually a good one. Usually. Tim Ruskell was pretty easy to understand during his time as Seahawks GM and a lot of media pundits could read his mind relatively easily when it came to the draft. Pete Carroll and John Schneider are almost impossible to work out, but there are little trends emerging.

If I could go back now – and it’s always easy to say that – I’d highlight the fact that Wilson isn’t quite like any quarterback we’ve seen before. Carroll clearly likes that, but not in the way some have suggested (eg – simply being determined to be different). He’s short yet has very few passes tipped. Ryan Tannehill is 6-4 and had plenty of tipped passes at Texas A&M last year and the same is happening in pre-season with Miami. His throwing motion is slingy and at times costly. Wilson, despite being much shorter, has a technically sound over-the-top release that has allowed him to avoid similar problems. Getting out of the pocket helps, but when he did stay in there last season he still completed clean passes.

His production at NC State and Wisconsin was impressive, so was his ability to avoid turnovers. Carroll preaches winning the turnover battle almost as much as competition – and here was a QB who barely ever turned it over in college. He had character and purpose, a determination seemingly brought about by ambition, competitive spirit and family tragedy after his father sadly passed away. When he visited Jon Gruden for the quarterback camp series this year, Gruden commented, “if you give Russell Wilson a chance to win a job, he’ll win it.” How true that statement is right now.

There were enough positives out there for a guy like Carroll to see beyond the height thing. My mistake was in failing to notice that. And given how enamoured the front office appeared to be when they made that third round pick, really this is a lesson to be learned. I don’t think we’ll ever work Carroll the way people worked out Ruskell’s philosophy, but we can still be smarter.

Nothing is conventional about this team. We should remember that as we move forward and begin to analyse the 2013 draft class. Increasingly, it looks like we might be able to concentrate on positions other than quarterback. And what a refreshing change that would be.

Russell Wilson game tape vs Kansas City

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

I’m about to watch the game in full for the first time, so expect a few thoughts tomorrow.

Seahawks history in the making

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

You can feel Russell Wilson’s legend building. You can feel Pete Carroll’s NFL legend building. Like the sensation of being swept out to sea, there is a sense of power and force at work that is beyond our ability to control or even fully understand. We already knew something special was happening in Seattle after seeing how the Seahawks closed out last season. Now we’ve seen that catalyst moment. Some may say “it’s only the preseason,” but the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson are the talk of the NFL right now. I suspect many of you will not remember another Seahawks’ preseason game like you’ll remember this game tonight.

Wilson has just one final test- doing it in a “real” game.

Of course, you know he will pass it.

He played against a real starting defense tonight, and an above average defense at that, on the road, in a place that is one the most intimidating places to play in the league. The Chiefs had the 12th best defense last season by weighted DVOA. They were shorthanded in the secondary, but actually played outstanding coverage anyway (and got away with way more contact than they should have). Wilson had just one drive that did not end in points, and it was a missed field goal that didn’t miss by much. For the preseason an almost unbelievable 67% of Wilson’s drives have resulted in scores, most of them touchdowns. No other preseason Seahawks QB this year has even led a touchdown drive.

I don’t even want to entertain thoughts of Wilson not starting at Arizona or for the majority of games over the next decade. It does not take a ton of insight to see the path Wilson has ahead of him. Greatness. Carroll may act coy, but we all know the Russell Wilson era in Seattle has begun. Doing anything else would make a mockery of his “earn everything” mantra. Even Matt Flynn knows that this competition is over.

What an amazing time to be a Seahawk fan. This team isn’t yet complete, but it already feels like the 90’s Cowboys. Seattle’s starters flat out embarrassed the Chiefs starters. By the time Kansas City cracked 15 yards of total offense, they were already down 16-0. And not because of turnovers or 80 yard lightning-in-a-bottle plays, but by pure, honest, truly dominant football.

I have never been this happy to be rooting for this team. Not even after the Saints playoff game. Not even after the 2005 superbowl berth. As someone that believed Russell Wilson to be the next Brees/Brady type draft steal months before he was drafted, the process of seeing him get surprisingly drafted by my team, then beat the odds to be in the position he is in right now, it’s so storybook that even Hollywood execs are probably watching this story unfold with interest. Especially if Wilson and the Seahawks have the kind of season I believe they are capable of. And the kind of decade I believe they are capable of.

I just can’t believe this is really happening. This is happening… to a Seattle sports team!

Regarding Wilson’s performance, I would have been excited by any good performance tonight, but the way that Wilson played went above and beyond as to leave no doubt. He pretty much destroyed the Chiefs, posting an astronomically high ANYA (adjusted net yards per attempt: think of it as a “smarter” passer rating) of 10.95, which is almost twice as high as Wilson’s debut against the Titans. For comparison, Matt Flynn’s historic 6 TD game against Detroit had a ANYA score of 11.06. If it felt like Wilson was really good tonight, he might have been even better than you thought.

Some people have called Aaron Rodgers a “robot” for how effortlessly great he is. Tonight Wilson, a rookie, was that same kind of robot. Even his post game interview was stone cold serious and devoid of emotion- when you know that any of us would be flipping out like we just had the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes van pull up our driveway. He did end his interview with “go hawks” though. Even robots can be cool cats.

There is much more to say, but this is all I will say for now. This is history in the making, my fellow twelves. Soak it up. Enjoy it. Remember it well.

Unlike Russell Wilson, are Seahawks fans afraid to excel?

Friday, August 24th, 2012

No nerves, just production. Russell Wilson deserves his chance tonight.

Russell Wilson has a quote: “I’m never afraid to excel”

It perfectly sums up the 23-year-old’s rise to prominence. He could, theoretically, be a starting NFL quarterback in a couple of weeks. This despite being 5-10 in height. This despite having to change schools in college. This despite seemingly being destined for a career in baseball.

It’s just a shame the Seahawks fans don’t have the same attitude.

I don’t want to be too critical because there’s a reason for the ’12th man’ moniker. Nobody can match the noise inside Century Link field and truly this is a fan base that deserves more than one bitterly disappointing visit to the Super Bowl. But I do question whether they’re prepared to accept a bit of risk taking to get back to the big game.

I keep hearing the same comments over and over again this summer, and they sound like this: “Well, I really like Russell Wilson. But the conservative side of me says start Matt Flynn.”

I’ve listened to media pundits and fans alike question whether Wilson should even be in the running to start. Some assumed it was Flynn’s job all along, despite repeated statements from the team that this was a competition. Some have even blown a fuse that Flynn isn’t the zoned-in focus going into week three of the pre-season. A lot of people want to play it safe. Whatever that means.

Personally I’m more than prepared for either quarterback to start. I feel like this coaching staff has earned our trust and while we are right to question certain aspects, I think we also owe it to Pete Carroll and co. not to go over the top. People questioned the trade that brought Chris Clemons to Seattle. People questioned the move to put Red Bryant at defensive end. People questioned the trade for Marshawn Lynch. These are just a few examples. If Flynn is the starter in week one against Arizona, we can all assume Wilson just isn’t ready yet. Fair enough. Let’s see how Flynn rolls against the Cardinals.

But if Wilson gets the job, people should be equally – if not more – excited. Don’t question it because it means they’ve decided Wilson is simply the better quarterback. Most people assume he has the higher upside because he almost certainly does. If he’s ready, why hold him back? To play it safe? What does that get you? Sure we can talk about Aaron Rodgers sitting in Green Bay, but that’s perfectly plausible when you have a first-ballot Hall of Famer as your quarterback. What’s more, Brett Favre never missed a game. Seattle doesn’t have that luxury.

It makes so much sense to see what they have tonight against the Chiefs rather than simply assume the ‘safe’ position of just going with Flynn because, you know, he’s been around a little longer. If Wilson struggles against Kansas City, they will almost certainly go with Flynn against the Cardinals. But what if Wilson succeeds? What if he’s flat out better? It’s not improbable. What a wasted opportunity it would’ve been to simply go with Flynn as the conservative option if all along you had this superior quarterback on the roster. Yet some people believe that’s the way to go. And I don’t get that.

Russell Wilson will be 24 in November. So while he’s a relative novice in the NFL sense, he’s actually played a ton of games at NC State and Wisconsin. Matt Flynn has attempted 569 passes in his entire career at LSU and Green Bay. Wilson threw 527 passes in one season for NC State in 2010. I appreciate that Flynn has valuable experience in the league as a backup and that does come with some value. We can’t ignore that. But while he’s been riding the bench at LSU and Green Bay, Wilson has been playing football games. And winning football games. And putting up big numbers in football games. So let’s not ignore that completely either.

This is a different level for Wilson now, but does he look like a guy who needs to sit and watch for a year or two? Does he look out of his depth in the NFL? He’s drawing Denver off-side, he’s pointing at linebackers to distract them on the run, he’s shown tangible improvement to his play action fake in the space of one week’s work. He’s led five touchdown drives. The guy appears to know the offense and how to conduct himself as the central focus of it. He looks like a NFL quarterback.

Maybe I’m tempting fate before tonight’s game. Maybe I’ll look pretty dumb if he struggles against the Chiefs. But even then, at least we’ll know he’s not ready. Those who are calling the decision to start him tonight ‘crazy’ were not speaking from a position of authority – they were just being overly cautious. If Wilson has issues and they say ‘I told you so’, they should be ashamed.

Had Russell Wilson played it safe he’d probably be a baseball player now at whatever level. He didn’t. He wanted to be a NFL quarterback. It’s time Seahawks fans craved dynamism rather than conservatism. Craved elite rather than average. Took a chance or too to be great. And more than anything, don’t be afraid to excel.