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Originally published July 28, 2012 at 5:11 PM | Page modified July 29, 2012 at 8:23 PM

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Seahawks open camp with a big question at QB

Three players fighting for the starting job

Seattle Times staff columnist

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RENTON — An expectant crowd filled the hillside that paralleled the practice fields and cheered every completed pass and every beam of hope it saw at the opening day of the Seahawks' 2012 training camp.

It has been a while since a Seattle football season dawned with such equal amounts of optimism and apprehension. In the third season of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, pieces are in place and a run toward the conference championship feels reasonable.

And yet, one undeniably huge, anxiety-causing concern still looms large over this camp.

Training camp is open and so is the Seahawks' starting quarterback competition. Camp has begun and yet the Hawks still haven't decided who will play the most important position in all of sports.

Will it be the incumbent, Tarvaris Jackson, who is the longshot in this race? Will it be the gifted third-round pick Russell Wilson? Or will it be Matt Flynn, in whom the Hawks already have made a significant financial investment?

"It's an exciting time," said Flynn, who had been Aaron Rodgers' backup in Green Bay. "That's what everybody in the NFL dreams about is being a starter. That's what I'm going to compete to do."

Quarterback is the Seahawks' great unknown. And it's the key to whether this team succeeds or fails.

"There were good points and there were some low points out there," Flynn said, assessing the first day's workout. "Just getting the kinks out, trying to get on the same page with guys. We had some miscommunication here and there, but that's to be expected on the first day. It's going to be a good film to watch."

Jackson got all of the reps with the first team Saturday. That honor will shift from practice to practice.

"We've got a big-time formula that we're unveiling here as we go," Carroll said. "This is just the first step of it. We've got a lot of things in mind that we want to get done. Every (quarterback) out here would like to get more turns. I wish every guy could get more turns. But we're just in the midst of this competition, and we're going to have to work our way through it."

It isn't supposed to happen like this. But this is the Seahawks' way. It is unorthodox. It's quirky. It flies in the face of conventional wisdom that says teams need to establish their starter early in camp.

But this competition is different. Wilson is a rookie. And Flynn has only two starts in four years. They're newbies, and the team has to see how each handles pressure.

There is no way to replicate the heat of a regular-season NFL game, but how this trio handles the daily pressure of this competition will provide a good idea of who can best handle the weekly rigors of the NFL.

"There's no reason to evaluate today," Carroll said of Saturday. "We'll start to figure it out when we start accumulating some reps."

Carroll assured us the team has a timetable, while also making it clear he has no intention of letting us know what the timing is. Referencing an old Johnny Carson skit, Carroll said the master plan was hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnall's porch.

(I was one of four 60-something sports writers who appreciated the joke.)

"We have a very strict schedule that we can set in motion now," Carroll said, "then we'll adjust as we go, depending on what happens. A lot of stuff can happen."

The best-case scenario would be that one of the three takes the bit, impressively wins the job and leads the Hawks to nine or 10 wins. I'm betting on Flynn.

In the worst-case scenario, none snatches the spot. All three of them start at various times this season and, without a consistent offense, the Hawks sink to 5-11 or 6-10.

"I'm excited about this," Carroll said excitedly. "I know there's a lot of anticipation about it. I understand that. I feel good about that. It's going to take some time, and we're going to take the time that's necessary and we'll play off the occurrences.

"Everything counts in the process. The walk-throughs (practices) will be enormous. And the preseason (games) will be extraordinarily important too."

In other words, Carroll doesn't anticipate this competition will be decided until probably the second or third exhibition game.

"Talk to any of us, we'll all say that we'd like more reps," Flynn said. "The more you get, the better you feel.

"We understand that the Seahawks are based on competition. And we understand also that it's going to bring the best out in us. I think we're all embracing it and we're all trying to get the most out of it we can."

The competition has begun. This is the Seahawks' high-wire act, an unconventional quest to find the right quarterback to bring this team back into the title conversation.

Seattle's summer just got a lot hotter.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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