RENTON — Darrell Bevell first noticed it while watching his alma mater play on television.
The Seahawks offensive coordinator had no way of knowing he’d soon be coaching Russell Wilson, but Bevell, a former Wisconsin quarterback himself, couldn’t help but marvel at how cool Wilson was under pressure as he led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl in his only season at Wisconsin.
“Just sitting there watching him, not having any clue (Wilson would be a Seahawk) — I was a fan at the time just watching Wisconsin. I couldn’t believe how poised he was,” Bevell said. “I mean, everything’s storming down around him and he looked like he was going through pat and go. That’s just something that he has always brought, and he’s brought it here with him as well.”
And with the Seahawks playing without three starting offensive linemen in each of the past two weeks — they should get center Max Unger back this week — that poise has never been more evident. So often against Houston and Indianapolis, a play looked dead before it had a chance to develop as pass rushers enveloped the pocket, and so often Wilson stayed calm, escaped, and either found a receiver down field or took off to gain 10 or 20 yards on the ground.
As fellow rising-star quarterback Andrew Luck put it last week, “Oh my gosh, he’s a phenomenal playmaker when things go south.”
Thanks to injuries to tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, as well as Unger, things went south quite often over the past two weeks, and with Giacomini and Okung still recovering, pass protection likely will continue to be an issue. Despite a 4-1 start, some might look at Wilson’s numbers — the lower completion percentage and passer rating, the four interceptions in five games after a nearly perfect second half to last season — and assume he’s experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump.
And they’d be wrong to do so.
Where some might see Wilson missing an occasional throw he would have hit last year, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sees the reason his team survived in Houston despite an overwhelming pass rush, and why the Seahawks pulled off a comeback in Carolina when the run game wasn’t able to get on track.
“I think he’s doing a fantastic job under the circumstances,” Carroll said. “I think he’s kept us alive in the games and given us the opportunity to have a chance to win. Very few guys could do what he’s doing.”
So how does he do it? How does a second-year quarterback show such veteran poise even as things are crumbling around him?
Wilson has juggled minor league baseball with college football, he changed schools for his final year of college, then he went from being a third-round pick to a Week 1 starter in the NFL, yet he can honestly tell you, “I don’t remember the last time I was ever flustered.”
“The biggest thing for me is I stay composed,” Wilson said. “I know that I’m still really young. It’s my second year in the league, I’m just starting, so it’s one of those things where I understand that there’s a process to learning the whole thing. The game’s not easy. Playing in the National Football League, everything’s not going to be perfect. You have to understand that (other teams) have great players, too. So when you understand that, when you understand playing in the moment and being in those situations, you learn from them and you grow from them, whether it’s good or bad.”
Wilson says one of his keys to saying calm is to find a spot in the stadium where he can focus “just to bring me back to zero, just to make me relax or whatever” when he feels like he might be getting too high or too down in the heat of the game. And don’t bother asking, he won’t tell you the location of that spot. The other big key for Wilson remaining calm under pressure is trusting the work ethic that drives him to spend so much time during the week preparing for those three hours on Sunday.
“The other thing I do is just focus on the fundamentals,” he said. “Focus on the fundamental of my footwork, focus on the fundamentals of the protections and all of that, and at the end of the day that’s what it is, because I know I’ve prepared the right way, so that’s what helps me play and what helps me stay relaxed in those moments.”
And ultimately, Wilson knows he can stay calm with the likes of J.J. Watt bearing down on him because he’s used to a hectic life, on and off the field. Sure spinning away from an NFL linebacker is challenging, but so is juggling two sports while in college, or learning a new playbook in a few short weeks to take over a starting job at a new program, or on a much more serious note, handling the death of his father, Harrison, while Wilson was still in college.
“I played professional football and professional baseball, and to have those two big things in my life, then I think about all the things I went through with my dad passing away, and also trying to graduate early and having all those things on me all at once really prepared me for those situations,” Wilson said.
At some point this Sunday and on many more to follow, things will fall apart for Seattle’s offense. Thanks to Wilson’s poise, however, that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.
“He stays calm,” Bevell said. “Nothing really gets him rattled, and he’s just always positive and has great confidence, he doesn’t worry about all of the other stuff.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.