BY JD PARENTI
In today’s NFL where the prototypical height of the quarterback is somewhere between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-7, it takes a special player to buck that trend.
It takes someone whose intangibles more than make up that two- or three-inch difference.
It takes a player like Drew Brees or someone like Michael Vick, both generously listed at 6-feet tall.
The Seattle Seahawks think they have special player like that in Russell Wilson.
Standing a fingernail under 5-foot-11, Wilson, Seattle’s third-round pick in April’s draft, will get his first professional start whenthe Seahawks play an exhibition game Friday in Kansas City.
Wilson is a former minor league baseball player who excelled at quarterback for two major colleges – North Carolina State and Wisconsin – in two major conferences – the ACC and Big Ten – yet his draft position came under heavy scrutiny because of his height.
“People tell me that I’m too short — they’ve been telling me that my whole life,” Wilson said in a conference call with reporters after the draft. “From my perspective, I think the main thing is I have all the other tools. I have big hands, long arms and I think the main thing is I have a big heart.”
Wilson has been a quick study and has displayed the type of leadership and a stellar command of the Seahawks’ offense through training campand the team’s first two exhibitions that caught head coach Pete Carroll’s attention.
When asked in a Twitter Q&A what he likes about Wilson, Carroll wrote: “His belief in himself and poise.”
Wilson has played in the second half of Seattle’s first two exhibitions, leading the offense on six scoring drives in 10 possessions. He has completed 22 of 33 passes for 279 yards with 3 TDs and 1 interception. He leads the Seahawks in rushing, scrambling for 92 yards on eight carries.
Despite playing in just the second half against second- and third-teamdefenses, Wilson has done what projected starter Matt Flynn has not been able to while running the first team against No. 1 defenses from Tennessee and Denver: lead a touchdown drive.
Flynn’s production — 17 of 26 for 102 yards with one interception during four field goal drives in 10 possessions — pales in comparison.
While earning the confidence of the Seattle brass, Wilson’s quick assimilation hasmade incumbent quarterback Tarvaris Jackson expendable and the high-priced signing of career backup Flynn,potentially questionable.
Trading or releasing Jackson became more and more of areality after the draft. The Seahawks had signed Flynn to a three-year $19.5million contract — despite just two career starts in three seasons in GreenBay – and then turned heads by drafting the undersized Wilson in the third round. Flynn figured to battle Jackson to start while Wilson learned the ropes as No. 3. That seemed to change shortly after Wilson arrived at May’s minicamp and hasn’t changed much through training camp and the exhibitions, where Jackson has yet to see the field. (Jackson’s eventual departure will save the club a reported$4 million.)
Still, putting Wilson out with the first team ahead of Flynn is definitely moreof a stunner, even for Coach “Always Compete” Carroll.
“We told you we were going to need preseason to figure this thing out andI think we’re moving along positively and I have no concern about the timing ofthis other than we need information and we need to figure it out,” Carroll told reporters after Tuesday’s practice while confirming reports that Wilson would get the start.
“This is about competition. This is what we’ve alwaysbeen about and if somebody doesn’t see it that way then they don’t understandus and I can’t do anything about that. This is a great competitive opportunityto watch and for me to oversee as a coach and it’s exciting and it’s been funto see it through and we’re going to finish it up the next couple ofweeks.”
Wilson gets his prime time audition for the starting job against a Chiefs defense that will be without at least two starters in cornerback BrandonFlowers and free safety Kendrick Lewis.
While at North Carolina State, Wilson was named first-team all-conference as afreshman in 2007, the only quarterback to ever earn such an honor in the ACC. Afterhis junior season, he was drafted by baseball’s Colorado Rockies in 2010. Hesigned and played Single-A ball in Pasco, Washington (roughly four hours from Seattle) before deciding to return to football. NC State had released him fromhis scholarship, freeing Wilson to attend another school. He chose Wisconsinand led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth. Wilson ledall of Division I in pass efficiency, had a quarterback rating of 191.78, and completed72.8 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and 4interceptions. He also rushed for six TDs.
Oh, what a difference three inches can make. At least inperception, projection and all the other supposed black-and-white rules of NFLscouting.
Had Wilson measured 6-foot-2 at the NFL Scouting Combine inFebruary, he very likely would have spent the next two months in theconversation for the No. 1 overall pick. But at 5-10 3/8, he was considered areach at No. 75.
Wrote NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang of Wilson ina May series on draft fits: “If one is to gamble on a quarterback withsuch limited height, that passer must be off the charts in virtually everyother category. And that’s the thing — Wilson is.”
It’s unclear how long Wilson will play and if Flynn will see snaps with the No.1 offensive line or be relegated to second-half duty with the reserves.
“We’re going to wait after thegame and see what happened and see what it feels like and talk it all out andsee everything you can possibly see in analyzing it and move ahead withconfidence,” Carroll said. “I’m real confident we’re doing the rightthing. I don’t have any hesitation in this.”
While the focus and all the blaring headlines will no doubt center around theWilson-Flynn battle, there are other areas of importance for the ‘Hawks onFriday.
** Seattle gave a 38-year-old Terrell Owens, the former perennial Pro Bowl receiver, a chance to extend his NFL career. And through 11 practices before Sunday’s exhibition, TO showed enough flashes of his old self that fans werestarting to get their popcorn ready. But in Saturday’s 30-10 exhibition victoryat Denver, the tenor of the Owens’ resurrection story changed dramatically.Despite five targets, he came out of the game without a catch and he dropped a wonderfully thrown ball from Flynn that should have been a touchdown, a playthat went viral on the highlight shows and may have doomed TO’s return.
With the first round of cuts coming Monday, Aug. 27, this very likely will be the final shot for TO (now wearing number 10) to remain in the NFL. Carroll’s post-game comments spoke volumes when he said: “I wish for him, and foreverybody, we would have caught that thing.”
** With a potential player-conduct suspension pending for running back MarshawnLynch following a July DUI arrest in Northern California, the buzz amongfantasy folks and ‘Hawks fans alike turned to likely replacement Robert Turbin.But the rookie fourth-round pick from Utah State, who is apparently a Lynch clone, has not exactly grabbed the opportunity, averaging a measly 2.9 yards on 20 carries. He has also caught 5 passes for 19 yards. Meanwhile, fourth-yearback Kregg Lumpkin is making a strong case for himself, averaging 4.07 yards on15 carries with a touchdown. And let’s not forget diminutive Tyrell Sutton, whohas churned out 10.2 yards per carry on 5 attempts plus one touchdown receiving.
** Bruce Irvin was the shocker of Day 1 of the draft. Seattle selected the chiseled-yet-slight pass rusher from West Virginia with the No. 15 overall selection, well ahead of his consensus mid-draft projection. So far, Irvin, whois 6-3, 240 pounds with arms — or should we call them “guns?” –straight out of Muscle Magazine, has yet to make an impact. And, no, we don’t consider hitting Peyton Manning after he released a pass as an impact. Let’s see if Irvin can flash once or twice on Friday and introduce himself not so nicelyto Chiefs QB Matt Cassel. If he did, it would be a relief to the Seahawks’heretofore moribund pass rush.
** Another rookie, second-rounder Bobby Wagner, has won the middle linebacker position. The Seahawks made that obvious by trading veteran Barrett Ruud to New Orleans on Monday. Wagner, also from Utah State, is getting some earlycomparisons to 49ers All-Pro Patrick Willis. Only time will tell how true that comparison truly is but high praise nonetheless.
Content from The Associated Press is used in this report.
You can follow JD on Twitter at @JD_Parenti .