RENTON — Before the Seahawks decided to make Russell Wilson the first quarterback drafted under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, Carroll decided to make a phone call.
Not to Wilson, or one of his coaches at Wisconsin, or to a Seahawks scout. No, he instead called Hall-of-Fame coach Bud Grant, a mentor from early in Carroll’s coaching career.
Grant enjoyed a lot of success in Minnesota with Fran Tarkenton, a nine-time Pro Bowler who was short by quarterback standards, so Carroll wanted to get Grant’s take on drafting the 5-foot-11 Wilson.
“I talked to him about Fran Tarkenton,” Carroll said. “To me it was really an interesting conversation. We had a long talk about, ‘How did Fran do it? How could he be so extraordinary?’ And it just gave me a sense to support what John had seen in person and studied over the years. We really just think we have a great guy.”
Carroll and the Seahawks ultimately decided that Wilson, undersized or not, was a good fit and grabbed him in the third round, marking the first time since 2009 that the Seahawks have drafted a quarterback (Mike Teel, sixth round). The Seahawks haven’t drafted a quarterback earlier than they did Wilson (75th overall) since taking Rick Mirer with the No. 2 pick in 1993.
Earlier Friday, the Seahawks picked Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner, who they are hoping will take over at middle linebacker for David Hawthorne, who left in free agency. In Wagner and Wilson, the Seahawks found players who are incredibly athletic, and who for different reasons — Wagner was lightly recruited and ended up at a WAC school; Wilson has been hearing he’s too short to be a quarterback for most of his life — have chips on their shoulders.
Of course, if Wilson were a few inches taller, the Seahawks wouldn’t have been in the position to draft him in the third round, and he is the last person who needs to be reminded of that.
“They’ve been telling me that my whole life,” Wilson said on a conference call. “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.”
Carroll pointed out that Wilson, despite his size, had just four passes knocked down last season while leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. And both Carroll and Schneider were a lot more focused on what they like about Wilson than his one glaring limitation.
“He’s phenomenal,” Schneider said. “We’re really, really excited to get Russell into our program.”
“This is such an incredible athlete who has had extraordinary, historic success,” Carroll added. “… More than anybody else that was alive in the draft, this guy gives you a chance to have a great player. It’s going to be really exciting to see what he can bring. All he’s ever done is be great.”
Yet as excited as the Seahawks are about Wilson, nobody is expecting him to win a starting job anytime soon. They signed Matt Flynn last month, and still have Tarvaris Jackson under contract for another year. Heading into the draft, however, Schneider repeated what he has said repeatedly since coming to Seattle — that he would prefer to draft a quarterback every year and let that player develop.
“It’s going to take him some time, certainly,” Carroll said. “But he’s a great learner, he understand the game. Our guys have been extremely impressed with all of that. He’ll pick it up as fast as a guy can pick it up.”
Though 5-11 is the number most associate with Wilson, he has plenty of impressive numbers on his résumé. He completed 72,8 percent of his passes and threw for 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. His 191.7 passing efficiency rating was an NCAA record.
While the Seahawks will bring Wilson along slowly, they expect to get an immediate impact from Wagner, who they hope can replace Hawthorne in the middle of the defense.
“We’ll bring him in to learn the ‘Mike’ position and see how far it goes,” Carroll said. “We’ll just take it as it comes. He will be thrown in with the first group.”
Wagner, who is from Ontario, Calif., led Utah State in tackles three times in his career, including his senior year when he had 147. Fittingly, his response when asked what he does well was a simple “Make tackles.”
A late bloomer — he didn’t start playing football until his junior year in high school — Wagner didn’t have offers from any big programs, which is how he ended up at Utah State. He did, however, get a brief glimpse of Pete Carroll during the recruiting process, but that was only because Carroll was looking at Wagner’s high school teammate, cornerback Omar Boden.
“I got a late start on football, and Utah State was the only school recruiting me,” he said. “Everybody else was telling me that I (stink). So I went to the school that recruited me. … I’m used to people saying I can’t do something, then I prove them wrong and then kind of throw it in their face a little bit.”
At Utah State, Wagner became a four-year starter and with impressive showings at his pro day and the Senior Bowl, he solidified himself as a legit NFL prospect. Wagner did not, however, attend the NFL Scouting Combine because he came down with pneumonia. Despite missing the combine, Wagner did enough to get the Seahawks’ attention.
“When you’re putting together your defense, you love for your linebackers to have great speed,” Carroll said. “If it winds up with Bobby playing in the middle, you’ve got a 4.4. guy playing middle linebacker and that just shrinks the field for us.”
The Seahawks made a trade with the Jets in the second round, moving from 43rd overall to 47th, while also picking up picks in the fifth and seventh rounds. With those picks, plus the two they acquired yesterday for moving back in the first round, Seattle has seven picks today — two fourth rounders, one fifth, two sixths and two sevenths.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.