Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn't afraid to play rookies
Quarterback Russell Wilson won't be the only rookie starting for the Seahawks in their exhibition game at Kansas City on Friday. Linebacker Bobby Wagner and guard J.R. Sweezy will also start against the Chiefs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seahawks @ Kansas City,
5 p.m., Ch. 13
Patience in the pocket can be considered a virtue for a quarterback.
It's not the way coach Pete Carroll has approached rookie Russell Wilson's NFL introduction, though.
The Seahawks coach never assumed the third-round pick would spend this season as an apprentice. That was apparent in May when Carroll declared Wilson part of the three-way quarterback competition. Wilson was the first-team quarterback on the team's first practice with pads, and Carroll's willingness to consider a rookie ready upon arrival is the reason Wilson will start Friday in Kansas City.
A lot of coaches would have given the rookie a year on the bench to listen and learn. Not Carroll. He has been giving his rookies every opportunity to show they're ready, and in three years the league's second-oldest coach has demonstrated a penchant for playing his youngsters.
"We've really forced them in," Carroll said, "knowing that they're talented, and then we try to manage it so they don't have big fallouts along the way.
"That's the magic of it if you can get it done."
That philosophy is why the Seahawks started four rookies at least one game last season, and it's why Wilson is one of three rookies who will start at Kansas City.
Bobby Wagner is the team's starting middle linebacker, a player noted for his speed not only on the field, but in understanding the defensive calls. Two weeks ago against Tennessee, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Wagner was so dialed in with the calls, he was reading the coach's lips. Rookie J.R. Sweezy is starting at right guard, which might be the biggest surprise of training camp, considering he was a defensive tackle in college and a fullback in high school.
Carroll once worked for Bud Grant in Minnesota, one of the league's old-salt coaches who believed you lost a game for every rookie you played. But during Carroll's time at USC, he not only began to play his younger players, but he embraced the concept.
"The kids were so talented and they were so good that to make them sit on the sideline and not play and participate was a mistake," Carroll said. "We learned that if you engaged guys early and you gave them chances to participate and you chose to give them things that they were good at, they could progress faster."
Carroll brought that approach to Seattle, whether it was a first-round pick like safety Earl Thomas, who has started every game since being drafted, or a fourth-round pick like K.J. Wright, who started the opener at middle linebacker a year ago.
"It's an open competition with everybody here," said Todd Wash, Seattle's defensive-line coach. "It doesn't matter how old you are, where you've come from, if you're one of the better players, you're going to play."
That's why Wilson is getting a chance to start even after the team signed Matt Flynn to a three-year contract that guaranteed him $20 million. That's the same reason Sweezy is currently starting with right guard John Moffitt out, even though Sweezy had no background on the offensive line until May.
"When they can come into this league, if they can adapt to what it is to be a pro — how to take care of your body, how to study, those kinds of things (they make it)," said Tom Cable, offensive-line coach. "They're all talented. It's whether they can do those little things."
It's also how those players come through in big moments. Providing an opportunity is just the first step to getting a rookie on the field. Then it's up to him to show what he can do with it, which is why all eyes will be on Wilson in Kansas City.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org