Jon Gruden-damus, Russell Wilson and the tipping point in QB competition with Matt Flynn
"If I were Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Flynn, I'd be leery of this kid because if you give him a chance, if you give him a chance and look past his 5 foot 11 or 5-10 and a half or whatever it is, if you give this kid a legitimate chance to win the job, he'll win it. That's how much confidence I have in him."
-- Jon Gruden, April 27 on ESPN
Jon Gruden made a habit of accumulating veteran quarterbacks in Tampa Bay, whether it was Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia or the attempt to land Jake Plummer.
That might have been a different story if he came across a rookie quarterback who entranced him as much as Russell Wilson this year. After the Seahawks chose him, Gruden forecast that given a legitimate chance in a quarterback competition, Wilson would win the starting job. Thanks to Aron Mellich for passing along that video.
Done and done.
So at what point did the Seahawks reach the same conclusion?
"Russell's performance was just so far off the charts," coach Pete Carroll said, "that we just had to recognize it."
But this wasn't some sort of straight-line progression. Remember, Matt Flynn started the second exhibition game, not Wilson as Seattle had planned.
"I know that everybody that made statements that they would think it would have been Matt's job to lose in a sense," Carroll said. "I didn't think of it that, but he took it over, right from the start. Matt kind of made it look like that. That's why he started the second game. So both of these guys were ready to go, and really, just one guy had a lot more success with the numbers and the production."
So when did that change.
Carroll never pointed to a singular moment when the decision to start Wilson became evident, but rather just an accumulation of evidence from the scoring drives Wilson led to his ability to effecitvely scramble.
I can't help but go back what might have been the easiest pass Wilson threw all game: a second-quarter touchdown throw to Kellen Winslow, who was uncovered.
"It was a two-minute situation and they just busted the coverage," Winslow said.
Yes, it was that simple once the ball was snapped.
It's what happened before that ball snapped that was most telling, though.
"We were going no-huddle," Wilson said. "But I recognized that they weren't matched up right. I just kind of snuck up to the line real quick and called for the snap really quickly. Kellen, obviously, knew he was going to open so I just got him the ball quickly. Kellen is such a tremendous football player, he's got so much knowledge, we saw the same thing at the exact same time. So I kind of just snuck up to the line and just hurried it up a little bit."
Yes, that's a rookie quarterback looking at the defense and recognizing a hole in it at the exact same time as one of the most productive receiving tight ends in this generation of NFL players. Not only that, but Wilson proceeded to take advantage of that mistake in coverage before the defense reacted to it because for all the physical demands that are placed upon the quarterback, there is a mental component to the game, too. The position demands an ability to read and react to what the defense is trying to do or in this case failing to do.
Wilson's ability to do that pointed to his understanding of an opponent's defense and take advantage of it. The result was the easiest throw he made all game, but the reason behind it was anything but simple.