RENTON, Wash. -- At 5-foot-10 5/8, former Wisconsin and current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has one obvious "handicap" in the way of his eventual NFL success, and very little else impeding his progress. The man who led the NCAA in passing efficiency in 2011 was described by Seahawks general manager John Schneider as the kind of player who could "tilt a room" after he was selected in the third round, and on the first day of Seattle's rookie minicamp, Wilson showed that he's got a lot on the ball when he's flinging it around.
There were other rookie quarterbacks on the field at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center Thursday afternoon, but rookie Chris Hart from Webber International and Jacksonville's Josh McGregor were the Invisible Men -- Wilson took just about every snap during a brisk two-hour practice in offensive drills and the team portion of the workout.
"I thought he did really well," head coach Pete Carroll said after practice. "We wore him out. He went all day long and he probably had like 70-something plays today -- he threw the ball a bunch. I thought he handled it really well — not beyond expectations in terms of handling the terminology at the line of scrimmage and the huddle and all of that, that's no big deal to him. He seems like a veteran in that regard. But he threw a lot of really good balls in a lot of tight windows today and did some good stuff. He had a little trouble on the deep ball — the defense played some things well. But all in all, I was really impressed with his first day. I was hoping it would look good, and it did, and he showed us some cool stuff today."
Wilson's height probably kept him from the first half of the first round, but he displayed several ways around the obvious disadvantage. He was nifty in the pocket to find defensive gaps, his overhand throwing motion has the ball coming out as it would for a quarterback a few inches taller, and his quick release allowed him to exploit those lanes before they closed again. Of those "70-something" throws, Wilson had just two balls batted down -- one was after a bad snap -- and he had one interception on a ball that sailed on him. The incompletions that were his fault could be counted in the single digits. He ended practice with another pick, but he had proven his point by then.
Wilson had a knack for throwing with anticipation at Wisconsin and at North Carolina State before that, but that fact that he did so with receivers he'd never thrown to before, against a faster (non-contact) defense, was sufficiently impressive.
"It's definitely a bit more difficult when you haven't thrown to some guys, but you play football," Wilson said, when I asked him how some quarterbacks are able to throw their receivers open more consistently than others. "Everybody here has played a lot of football in their day so most guys are pretty much on the same page, same timing and you just see him drop his hips and let the ball loose — play with confidence and let it go."
Wilson showed other positive characteristics, as well. Time after time, whether in the pocket or rolling to the right or left, he made accurate stick throws downfield. His command of play action caused the young defensive backs he was facing to cheat their eyes to the backfield, and he made them pay by throwing over the top for a few long completions. He looked very comfortable with the rhythm of the game, and when larger defenders got in his face, he would adapt by side-arming throws to the hot route receiver underneath.
In an NFL that frequently turns the most impressive college quarterbacks to mush at first blush, it was a compelling performance -- even with the caveats that there was no contact allowed, and Wilson was facing rookies and a handful of veteran hopefuls.
As Carroll said, it will be different when the "varsity" shows up ... but so far, so good.