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Russellmania! Seahawks rookie Wilson shines in first NFL preseason start

Doug Farrar
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This is why #russellmania was trending on Twitter on Friday night. (Getty Images)

In each of the last three seasons, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider has said that he wants a quarterback who can "tilt the room." Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have shuffled through an interesting crew of sub-stars in that time -- veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the 2010 season, and then a somewhat more indifferent combination of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst in 2011. Before the 2012 season, two new moves were made -- the Seahawks signed former Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million deal, and they drafted North Carolina State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round.

The idea was that by dint of his experience, Flynn would win the starting job, and Wilson could learn and compete. Jackson, still on the team, had become more of an afterthought, and that was more and more the case as Wilson surprised everyone by excelling and frequently outpacing both Jackson and Flynn in practices and through the first two games of the preseason. As a result, and because of a balky elbow that started to bother Flynn mid-week, Carroll decided to start Wilson against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 of the preseason, to see what he could do against a quality starting NFL defense.

Three hours later, Carroll had as definite an answer as he's ever received. Wilson performed marvelously, completing 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of action. The Seahawks had a 44-7 lead at the end of the third quarter, and the 44-14 final was due, in large part, to Wilson's cool head in the pocket and ability to use his feet to make plays. He also rushed for 58 yards on two attempts. Through three total NFL games, Wilson has completed 35 of 56 passes for 464 yards, five touchdowns, one interception, and he has the NFL's best preseason quarterback rating at 119.4.

[Related: Too big for the NFL, John "House" Taylor wallows in obscurity]

In every possible way, the rookie has unexpectedly looked more like the Seahawks' best quarterback than anyone else on the roster, a fact that Carroll seemed to acknowledge. Wilson's 5-foot-10 5/8 stature, long thought to be an extreme liability to some, wasn't a problem at all, because he knew how to effectively move in the pocket to open line gaps and throwing lanes.

"He had run so much through the first two games, I wanted to see how he would do if he held in the pocket and read it out," Carroll said after the game. "He's done everything we've asked of him. When John was excited about drafting him, and we got the momentum to make that pick, this is the guy we hoped he would be. All the talk about how tall he is and stuff -- I don't see it being a factor. I've watched more carefully than anybody could have watched, and it isn't [an issue] to me."

Receiver Golden Tate agreed. "It's just something that he stands for and how he handles himself. The things that leave his mouth," Tate said. "You get a feeling that he's just very, very special. You don't know what it is, but you get that feeling. You get excited to see him get on the field, because you never know if he's going to throw a perfect touchdown pass or juke a safety to extend the drive. It's hard to put into words, but it's just good to have a guy who seems comfortable sitting back there. He's just a very, very special player, and I'm excited to see him grow."

Carroll said that he would go through Week 4 of the preseason, which the Seahawks end at home against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night, before making the final decision on the regular-season starter. One thing's for sure -- Wilson couldn't have done much more to put himself in the driver's seat.

"I definitely felt that I was ready to go," Wilson said right after the win. "I believe that when you're prepared, you're never nervous. That's the way I've always been -- just prepare myself the best way so that I can put my best foot forward. We showed tonight that we can play some great football when everybody's working together.

"All I can do is do the best I can to help our team get better -- we have a tremendous team, and it's great to see everybody working together and rolling. All I can do is just keep learning as much as I can, look at the tape, and we'll see what happens."

[Related: Five single-season NFL records that could be broken in 2012]

What has happened so far is that Wilson has made a very difficult thing -- graduating from college to the NFL at the game's most complicated position -- seem relatively simple. Through the preseason, he's been the among the league's most impressive rookie quarterbacks, at least in a statistical sense, and that shows the effort behind the seeming ease.

"It's never easy," Wilson concluded. "All the work we put in, in terms of getting there early and leaving late -- it's a lot of work .You've really got to be dedicated to it, and you have to be. Our team is really dedicated right now -- everybody's loving it, and everybody's intense. Everybody's really caring about what we need to do to be successful."

For the Seahawks to be successful in 2012, they'll need a quarterback with the intangibles and attributes to tilt the room. Three years after he started his search, John Schneider may have found his man.

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