Pete Carroll established his coaching philosophy before joining USC. Whittled down to one word, it would be "competition." Players competed at USC, scads of talented players for every one spot. The NCAA enforces no roster limitations and Carroll's Trojans fielded huge, hundred-plus rosters. In that way, competition was almost inherent. USC had huge resources and recruiting power and freshman could outplay former four-start recruits. Roster turnover was endemic to both Carroll and USC football; is endemic to college football.
That emphasis on competition is not as easy in the NFL. Players are employees instead of students. Contracts complicate things. Roster limits complicate things. The collective bargaining agreement complicates things.
The Seahawks could not field a hundred players, open every position to competition and start fresh with strictly the best, hardest working, hungriest players playing. It could and did successfully translate the spirit of Carroll's coaching philosophy. It did that through roster turnover. Instead of a cattle call style audition like a college camp, it held almost continuous auditions and kept some players almost continuously on the bubble.
It could not do that with every position and that is one very good reason Seattle has stuck with J.P. Losman. Though Losman is by no means an accomplished NFL veteran, he is nevertheless rare. Seattle will not happen upon too many free agents with Losman's tools. So, once signed, Seattle was somewhat vested in Losman. Quarterback is not a position one can sign, pit against his peers and cut or keep based on a few days of slamming pads. Quarterback ability is only fully revealed through game action. Seattle saw something it liked in Losman and unlike other positions, it couldn't just put him through his paces and figure if he sank or swam.
Losman has not sank or swam or even barely taken the field. He attempted five passes in week one. He played poorly and has not played since. But he's still around. Will he make the final roster? I doubt it. Here's why:
Seattle has assembled a shadow roster: To paraphrase John Schneider, part of Seattle's high turnover is getting people in, allowing them to learn the basics and keeping them on speed dial in case things go south. Being a quarterback, Losman would need the most time to get up to speed. Seattle has kept Losman around because it wants him as ready as possible, even if it now knows he will not make the team. He then becomes part of the shadow roster, not in camp but also not totally green if re-signed.
Losman is not in-demand: Losman spent last season out of the NFL. That speaks volumes. He has spent the off-season and preseason with the Seahawks. Another team can not sign and play him and expect him to be ready. Seattle can not be sure another team will not sign him anyway, but if the team was looking for a player that they could sign, coach up, cut and feel fairly secure he would be available in a pinch, it couldn't have picked a much better candidate than J.P. Losman.
Seattle needed competition for Charlie Whitehurst: Whitehurst is Matt's competition, but who pushes Charlie? See, everyone knew Hasselbeck might run away from the pack. He is a former Pro Bowl quarterback, right? And if he did, Whitehurst would no longer be competing against Matt, and without another capable arm, he would be the uncontested number two. That's bad, especially within a philosophy of competition. Losman was signed to push Whitehurst and he has, if only through sheer physical presence, throughout training camp. Remember when reports swirled about how Whitehurst was losing ground to Losman? Ye-aah.
The nightmare scenario is just that: What if Matt goes down? What if Whitehurst is injured in the same game? What if the team plane is overrun by venomous snakes? There's a lot of ways to lose a game. Picking out something particularly horrific and unlikely is like fearing ghosts and foregoing cancer screenings.
Coaches are notoriously conservative and no coach ever, ever wants to face the nightmare scenario. Luckily, few do. And when they do, well, they lose. Then the team picks up the pieces, maybe signs a free agent and is not much better or worse off than if they played their third string quarterback.
Seattle does not have a pure backup or a pure developmental quarterback, it has Charlie Whitehurst: Frame it however he wants, John Schneider will never convince me to include Whitehurst as part of the Seahawks draft class. He is a veteran. He is nearing thirty. He may have big hurdles to clear, big as any rookie, but he must clear them quicker and more skillfully because he is experienced and because he has less time. Seattle needs Whitehurst to step up now. He is not only the potential quarterback of the future, he is the starter if Matt is injured. Seattle doesn't have a Billy Volek or a Mark Brunell and also doesn't have a Nate Davis or a Colt McCoy. It has Whitehurst, and Whitehurst must be both Davis in potential and Volek in preparation.
Denver retained only two quarterbacks in 2008: Mike Shanahan typically retains two quarterbacks. Bates is his protege.
Seattle might retain Losman. Old habits die hard, and I figure Carroll gets the final say. There is a solid even convincing argument that Seattle will not keep two quarterbacks and should not keep two quarterbacks. We shall see.