Although only a minor announcement at the time with little relevance to most people, I took some interest when the jersey numbers were announced for Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. Irvin will wear #51, the reverse of the position he was taken in the draft (#15 overall). Wilson will wear #3, the round in which he was picked by Seattle.
Both players became major talking points after they were drafted. Irvin was considered a specialist who couldn’t take a lot of snaps, despite Seattle’s high-profile use of the LEO. Wilson was considered too short to play in the NFL despite a prolific college career at NC State and Wisconsin. Who’d blame these guys for having a chip on their shoulder?
Are the Seahawks tapping into that? It seems that way. After all, any edge you can find in a player is worth exploiting. Pete Carroll is building a programme around competition, and this appears to be just another form of that. Competition isn’t just about beating out the guy challenging for your position on the roster, it’s also about competing against outside factors.
Irvin was knocked as a reach at #15. The collective gasps among the league’s media were loud enough to wake a small child in Australia. It’s since been revealed that Irvin’s placement in the 2012 draft wasn’t a surprise among other teams as he was expected to leave the board at some point in the 20’s, if not sooner. Yet the Seahawks continue to be criticised and indirectly that’s a critique of Irvin. The media expects him to fail. They want to be proven right.
The choice of jersey #51 may just be a quirky decision on Irvin’s behalf given that he can’t use the #15. However, I like the idea that it’s all part of the process of proving the pick was justified. He could’ve chosen any number between 50-79 or 90-99. He went with the reverse of #15. Never mind that the number is closely associated with a recent Seahawks favorite (Lofa Tatupu), Irvin wants to make it his own and at the same time prove he was worth the big investment.
Russell Wilson chose #3 despite wearing #16 at both NC State and Wisconsin. Is it pure coincidence that he went with the number representing the round he was chosen? This is a guy that did nothing but put up great numbers in college, transition between schemes and keep winning. His senior year could easily have ended with a BCS Championship appearance. Yet when people talked about draft grades, it was always ‘mid-to-late round pick’. Just because of the height. I was one of the people making such a judgement on this very blog, while Kip had the smarts to see through it. In hindsight, I wish I’d not been so narrow minded.
Seattle drafted Wilson at the earliest point they had to. They knew they didn’t need to panic in round two, but didn’t risk waiting until round four where they had two picks. John Schneider believes he’s one of the top players in the draft, but he’s still a third round pick. Pete Carroll says he’s the one guy in this years class that gives you a chance to have a great player. He’s still a third round pick. Why? Just because of the height. A lot of people said he’d be a first round pick if he was a few inches taller. They ended up being correct, because I get the impression Seattle would’ve happily drafted this guy sooner if they had to.
Is Wilson using that as a motivational tool? Perhaps. Publicly he’s discussed how he’s dealt with the height issue throughout his career mainly because it’s unfortunately all anyone wants to talk about. Even members of Seattle’s media continue to ask him about it. At one point on Friday someone asked Pete Carroll if they’d acquired ‘lifts’ for his shoes. Hilarious. Someone, surprisingly, actually laughed at the question. Carroll did not. In Wilson’s press conference on the same day, he was asked about height and size of his hands – like there’s nothing else to discuss. Cue a bit of an awkward moment, but how many times have you seen Drew Brees asked to hold up his hands? Or Aaron Rodgers? It’s almost as if the Seahawks have drafted a different species to play the position. He’s a shorter quarterback. Time to get over it. For me it’s an issue that was rightly discussed a lot during the draft process when trying to project his stock, but it’s a moot point now. He went in the third round, he’s in Seattle and he’s ready to compete. Let’s see how he goes.
I’m not sure if Wilson or Irvin for that matter feed off such things. Some guys need that element of doubt from the outside to keep driving on. Others deal with criticism and doubters differently, keeping negativity away and concentrating only on things they can control. If Wilson succeeds, he’ll be succeeding with a constant reminder on his jersey. Third round, #3. If Irvin succeeds, people will see the number one and the number five. A nod to the critics who cried reach when Seattle made him the #15 pick.
The Seahawks pretty much created a team of players with a similar attitude. Chris Clemons – rejected by Philadelphia but finding success as an upper echelon pass rusher in Seattle, playing in a position he was born to play. Red Bryant – suddenly a defensive MVP when many wondered if his days were numbered with the Seahawks. Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor – former CFL defensive back and two late rounders now part of possibly the most dynamic secondary in the NFL.
On offense, Marshawn Lynch – a guy considered a trouble-maker in Buffalo and dumped for two late rounders but now the team’s heart and soul in the running game. Mike Williams – seemingly out of the game, but took the chance offered by Seattle to resurrect his career. Doug Baldwin – an UDFA snubbed by even his old coach at Stanford, but now vowing to become the teams #1 receiver. The spine of Seattle’s roster is built around guys who were challenged to prove a point.
Finding players with that edge has helped shape the team and it seems like most of the 2012 draft class has the same ‘chip on shoulder’ mentality. That can only be good news for the Seahawks.