Wilson's secret: 'I transition really well'

BY foxsports • September 21, 2012

The big-money free-agent pickup signed a $26 million contract this offseason, and many assumed that made Matt Flynn the Seattle Seahawks' starting quarterback.

The seasoned veteran with the dual-threat skills had 35 career NFL starts, and many assumed that made quarterback Tarvaris Jackson the Seahawks' backup.

Russell Wilson doesn't live in a world based on other people's assumptions.

When the Seahawks selected him in the third round of the NFL draft in April, the former University of Wisconsin quarterback came to town fully intent on winning the starting job, even as others bemoaned his physical limitations.

"If I listened to everything that people told me I couldn't do growing up from when I was a child all the way until now and throughout the whole drafting process and throughout college, I wouldn't be where I am today," Wilson told Wisconsin media on a conference call this week. "All that stuff strengthens me."

Confidence never was a trait missing in Wilson's repertoire. Only his height seemed to be lacking.

But the Seahawks took a chance on him, and the move has paid off. Wilson will make his third career start when Seattle (1-1) plays host to Green Bay (1-1) in front of a nationally televised audience on "Monday Night Football."

Wilson, at 5-foot-10 5/8, is the shortest quarterback in the NFL. Still, he wrestled the starting job away from Flynn, the 6-2 former Packers backup, with his consistent play during preseason camp.

"I'm not surprised," Wilson said. "I always believe in myself . . . I know I have the talent to be a starter in this league, and I have always believed that. The Seahawks drafted me for a reason. They believed in me."

What Seattle saw in Wilson was a relentless competitor who won wherever he went. At North Carolina State, Wilson was the first freshman ever to be named to the first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback spot.

After transferring to Wisconsin, Wilson set the NCAA record for passing efficiency in his one year with the program and broke the school record for completion rate (72.8 percent). He also guided the Badgers to a Big Ten championship and their second straight Rose Bowl appearance, throwing 33 touchdown passes and just four interceptions along the way.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he conferred with former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant about Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who played in the 1960s and '70s and was listed at 6-foot. Carroll knew from that conversation that taking Wilson was the right decision.

"We just watched him play football," Carroll said, "and watched what he did and evaluated very carefully and found that if there was any times when height was a factor, he found a way to do something about it, and the results were excellent. To be that efficiency leader of all time in college -- and the number of knockdowns that he had -- right now he's got a couple knockdowns, and there's a bunch of guys that have more than him."

Wilson won over the locker room in Seattle in much the same way he did at Wisconsin.  He came to Wisconsin last July, immersed himself in the playbook, built a rapport with teammates and four weeks later was named one of the team's co-captains.

"The part that I think makes him have success is he's a phenomenal football player, he's a phenomenal athlete," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "But what goes on between his ears and what makes his heart beat the way it does is what's going to separate him from so many people, at his position as well as at his level. He's just an uncommon man in that way."

Badgers senior running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, said Wilson's leadership carried the team in times of crisis last season. That included back-to-back last-minute losses to Michigan State and Ohio State -- games that derailed Wisconsin's chance for a national championship. The Badgers won their next five games to reach the Rose Bowl.

"Coming to Wisconsin was the best choice for him," Ball said. "Obviously, where we went showed that he was capable of carrying a team and being a leader, so I believe it all worked out perfectly for him."

Wilson said his ability to quickly adapt from a spread passing attack at North Carolina State to a pro-style offense at Wisconsin has helped him in Seattle. In May, Wilson opened eyes during Seattle's three-day rookie minicamp, throwing more than 400 passes in front of Seahawks coaches. Carroll saw enough to determine Wilson would compete for the starting quarterback job come the preseason.

After three preseason games, the job was his, Flynn became the backup and Jackson was traded to the Buffalo Bills.

Now through two regular-season games, Wilson has completed 33 of 54 passes (61.1 percent) for 304 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. And for those curious, just two of his passes have been batted down at the line of scrimmage.

"Coming here, it was a perfect situation because it was basically the exact same situation (as Wisconsin)," Wilson said. "I came into rookie minicamp just trying to learn the whole playbook. I believe I have tremendous football knowledge. I transition really well. NC State's offense was West Coast and then going to Wisconsin was a vertical play-action game, a strong running game, just like here as well. A lot of the terminology is somewhat similar. That transition made it a little easier for me."

The stage might be bigger in the NFL, but Wilson continues to focus on the tasks that have allowed him to reach this point -- other people's assumptions be darned.

So far, so good.

"I know there's not a lot of guys like this, but Russell is that exceptional and he's that unique," Carroll said. "We thought we had a real good one, and he's looking like he's on his way to a good start to his career."


Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.


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