By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — In the end, no matter how much we argue and debate the merits of sticking with Russell Wilson or turning the job over to Matt Flynn, the outside noise won’t matter.
Pete Carroll has made it clear that he’s sticking with Wilson this week when the Seahawks play at Carolina, so whether you still have an incurable case of Russell-mania, or if you are now fully in for Flynn, the quarterback controversy is moot at this moment. Now, if Wilson struggles again Sunday and the Seahawks lose, then the discussion will heat up next week.
For now, however, the question isn’t who will start at quarterback Sunday, but rather how the starting quarterback will handle some adversity following a rough outing for the offense in last week’s loss to St. Louis.
In his football career, Wilson has known almost nothing but success. He sat out his first year at North Carolina State then won the starting quarterback job as a redshirt freshman. That same season, he became the first freshman quarterback in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named first-team all-conference. After an impressive four years with the Wolfpack, Wilson picked up where he left off with a historically good season at Wisconsin.
It hasn’t been exactly smooth for Wilson early in his NFL career, but if a few bumps in the road have gotten to him, he certainly isn’t showing it.
He is exactly the same answering questions a few days after a tough loss as he was after winning two straight. His aphorisms and cliches haven’t changed, nor has his demeanor. And much more importantly than how he handles himself in front of the media, Wilson also has impressed his teammates with his ability to avoid the emotional ups and downs that could come with being a rookie quarterback.
“He’s handling it pretty good,” receiver Ben Obomanu said. “You never see him down on himself or stressed about anything. He’s always trying to get better, so even when he has some good days, he’s still asking questions to find out what he can do better.
“He just has a good mindset knowing that the reality is that, as the quarterback, he’s going to get scrutinized. He understands that’s the way football works being a quarterback.”
It’s commonplace for athletes and coaches to say they don’t read the papers or listen to sports radio, but when Wilson tells you, “I ignore the noise,” it’s hard to doubt him.
“No matter how good I’m doing or how bad I’m doing, I learned (to ignore the noise) a long time ago,” he said. “I try to stay away from it as much as I can. Just have to stay humble during the good times and stay humble during the bad times and realize that it’s a humbling game no matter how good or how bad you’re doing.
“You always have to stay focused on what you’re doing and keep learning from your mistakes and keep going.”
Last week, when the rest of the country was screaming about the injustice done to the Green Bay Packers on the final play of Monday Night Football, Wilson quietly spent his Tuesday at Seattle Children’s Hospital visiting sick kids.
While the media and Seahawks fans spent Sunday night and Monday morning talking quarterback controversy, Wilson already was studying film of this week’s opponent, getting a head start. Sidney Rice said that when he and other receivers arrived in the locker room Monday morning, they all had notes in their lockers from Wilson outlining what he had seen from studying the Panthers’ defense. Rice has been around plenty of hard-working quarterbacks, but said he had never seen that. When Obomanu woke up Tuesday morning, he had text messages from Wilson about the tendencies of Carolina cornerbacks and safeties.
Just about every quarterback that gets to the NFL level is a hard worker, but Wilson has impressed his teammates by taking it to another level in good times and bad.
“He takes it to another level,” Obomanu said. “I’ve been around guys, I know how things work, and all quarterbacks have those intangibles and study and do things like that, but he takes it to another level. He stays a little later, comes in a little earlier. You can tell he’s really embraced this role as the starting quarterback and he wants to make sure he does well. You can see that extra drive and motivation more than you do in other guys.”
We’re still a long ways from knowing whether or not Wilson can be great — and that’s his oft-stated goal, not someone else’s. But one thing that has become very evident early in his tenure, something that people around N.C. State and Wisconsin already knew, is that Wilson won’t easily be rattled.
And Wilson knows his situation is a unique one. Most rookie quarterbacks are starting because they are the central piece of a rebuilding project. Expectations for the future are high, but people aren’t realistically expecting much in terms of wins in the present.
Wilson, however, is running the offense for a team with very real playoff aspirations. No, the Seahawks aren’t asking him to win games on his own, far from it — the Seahawks have attempted the fewest passes of any team in the NFL. However, when a team with a defense and running game as good as Seattle’s loses, scrutiny will fall on Wilson no matter how good he is at ignoring the noise.
“I think there’s enormous pressure on our quarterback,” Carroll said. “I really think there is. He’s a great kid to handle it. We’re just trying to get really good quarterbacking on our football team, and Russell is busting his tail to get it done right now.
“There is a lot of pressure; I think he’s really equipped to deal with it. He is. He’s doing that. He’s staying right with what we ask him to do, he’s working hard, he’s studying like crazy, he’s practicing really diligently just like we’ve come to know from him. But this is what this position is all about, yeah, there are extraordinary expectations.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.