Even though the 2011 season is still almost a month from being officially over, what happens with Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks in 2012 is a very hot topic. Pete Carroll commented during the season and more in depth during his post season presser that he thinks Jackson has the right stuff to be the quarterback of the future, pending a few improvements: becoming more creative under pressure (Carroll tagged this the "necessity for creativity") and garnering the ability to take the team on his back and successfully finish games when coming from behind. If the 12th man were to chime in on what needs fixing, add increased pocket awareness/presence and becoming more adept at making quick decisions to the list of concerns heading into 2012.
With the debate about the quarterback of the future heating up around here, this caught my attention in the past few days: both former Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Theismann and former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon weighed in on the debate this week, and their remarks provide a view from both ends of the spectrum.
Theismann first; he thinks the Seahawks should stand pat. He cites Jackson's toughness and leadership as positives, and believes the injured/sore pec may have hurt Jackson's play. He doesn't think the Seahawks can draft an inexperienced player and expect an Andy Dalton like result, calling such a move and following expectation a "huge mistake." Furthermore, he thought the Cardinals paid too much for Kevin Kolb (a sentiment I personally agree with) and even though Matt Flynn is better than Kolb, the Seahawks should stick with Jackson for one more year.
Now onto Gannon, who gives a more thorough and harsher appraisal of the situation (the link is the radio interview). First, the music to many Seahawks' fans ears; Gannon has been assigned to many Packers' preseason games over the years and he thinks Flynn is a "significant upgrade" to Jackson, and is a player that was ready to start in the league heading into this past season. He thinks Flynn's experience week in and week out in the league is an advantage over brining in a college player - though Carroll noted recently his feelings have changed from believing a young quarterback could not come in and be a formidable NFL quarterback right away, to in recent years now believing it's possible. Back to Gannon, and his thoughts on Jackson (Via Brady Henderson):
"I think what you see is what you get. I don't know if it's going to get a whole lot better with Tarvaris Jackson, and that's really my concern." While Jackson was in Minnesota, the Vikings brought in Gannon -- a former league MVP and four-time Pro Bowler -- for some tutoring. Gannon said he was impressed with Jackson's work ethic but suggested that he had concerns about his decision making and ability to process information quickly.
After watching Jackson start for the Seahawks this season, Gannon said he doesn't play the game fast enough, an indication that he doesn't have as firm an understanding of the offense as he should. Jackson was drafted by the Vikings in 2006, the same season Darrell Bevell became the team's offensive coordinator. They came to the Seahawks together last offseason.
"He has as much experience in this system as anyone on that football team from an offensive standpoint, that's one of the reasons why they went out and got him. They brought in Darrell Bevell. Tarvaris had spent all that time with him; he was his quarterback coach. So if anyone should have known the offense it's Tarvaris Jackson."
Gannon thinks this is an important year for Carroll and this football team to turn the corner; do they need a new quarterback to make that step? Gannon seems to think the answer is yes, that Jackson isn't the guy for the job, and delaying the move is not in the best interest of the organization. Unfortunately, the thing that stands out most about his comments, to me, is that Jackson has issues with quick decision making, one of the biggest of the 12th man concerns. Simply, Gannon doesn't seem to think Jackson is the guy. Theismann seems to think there is room for growth with an offseason of continuity.
Anyway, as described on Sunday, I'm beginning to go back through the 2011 season; my current focus is on gathering information about and in relation to the season, rather than on figuring who in particular should be in the fray in 2012. The other writers here are currently doing an excellent job anyway.
(Aside - who knows, maybe a bulked up Josh Portis will be a factor. Matt Flynn has been widely talked about, or what about Josh Johnson (a name Danny has thrown around for a while) or trading up (if need be) in the draft, or taking two quarterbacks even?! This Chandler Harnish character introduced by Rob Staton intrigues me. Chaos!!! I'm not currently in a position to say who should eventually compete and pick a winner. I do like Jackson as a person and it would be a cool story to see him succeed in Seattle, but moving on.)
Incidentally, I came across the following excerpt by Bill Walsh and it's been stuck in my head for days. I feel that given the vigor by which we discuss who should be the 2012 quarterback around here, an anecdote from the late, great Mr. Walsh would be welcome. For background on the strong connections between Walsh and Pete Carroll, notably regarding how to build the quarterback position, I suggest reading Danny's piece from the preseason.
The following is from Walsh's book Finding the Winning Edge, published in 1998. The context is talking about "acquiring talented players" via free agency and in this case, the draft.
"Deciding When Enough is Enough"
As the head coach, you should be aware of the fact that on occasion you will select a talented player in the draft who just isn't able to do his job at an acceptable level in the game for whatever reason. The point to keep in mind is that no matter how long and hard you practice, no matter how thorough and detailed your teaching, if a player is dysfunctional during the game, it's a waste of everyone's time.
A player who simply can't compete or perform with poise (regardless of his physical skills and potential) will not only disappoint you, he can literally destroy everything everyone else is accomplishing. This situation is especially true at the quarterback position.
A recent event brought this point home vividly to me. A good friend of mine (one of the greatest coaches in the NFL) committed himself to a young quarterback who did not have the poise and competitive zeal to compete against top-level teams. The athlete possessed all of the physical tools to be outstanding, but when playing against top-flight competition, he self-destructed.
Upon accepting the duo-role position as head coach and general manager, my colleague "inherited" this young quarterback, who had failed to achieve the great things expected of him, despite his obviously high level of talent. Subsequently, in extreme confidence and to demonstrate good faith in this young man, my colleague publicly announced that this particular athlete would be his team's quarterback of the future.
Upon reviewing the situation, my friend decided that through good coaching, detailed attention to the proper techniques and a vocal demonstration of his support, he could mold this young quarterback into the accomplished performer that many individuals felt was the athlete's destiny.
Hundreds of hours were spent working with the player during the mini-camps and training camp. In turn, he had several very good performances in the team's preseason games. He continued to show promise as a performer in the first game of the regular season, although against a very weak opponent.
In the second game, however, his fortunes changed dramatically when he faced one of the top defenses in the NFL. The contest was a home game, against a traditional rival that had been badly weakened by injuries.
Everything was in place for a decisive victory - one that was expected to launch his team to a terrific season that would culminate in being in the playoffs of the first time in several years. Under the stress and demands a formidable competition, however, this quarterback failed miserably.
If some other quarterback, even an aging journeyman, had been given the opportunity to lead the team, my colleague would've received a better "return" on the investment. To me, the obvious point was that despite the fact that my friend is renowned as one of the finest coaches in the history of the game, he miscalculated miserably.
Not knowing when to conclude that "enough is enough" with a player on the team who is not performing at an acceptable level is a slow, but sure, road to catastrophe. If after reasonable opportunity a player fails to meet your expectations, he must be replaced and released to try elsewhere.
Coaches are ultimately fired and franchises suffer a setback that may last for years if they're unable or unwilling (for whatever reason) to take such an action. You must keep in mind that functional instincts and competitive poise must be present for a player to be of value. Neither element can be fabricated."
My first thought after reading this was, sadly, "this sounds like the Aaron Curry situation." Curry was the residue of the Ruskell regime, so in relation to Walsh's example it seems like a pretty close comparison. Then, my head wandered to what likely is the more reasonable place given current circumstances; the Seahawks' situation with Tarvaris.
Obviously there are some differences between the circumstances in the anecdote and what has transpired with Jackson, the obvious one being a draft pick versus a free agent acquisition. Also, Jackson was never touted to be great as a second round pick (some would say he was taken too early by the Vikings); he merely was tabbed as with potential. Plus, he didn't get any of last offseason to work with the staff.
But, the counterpoint is that Jackson wasn't inherited by Carroll; he was handpicked because of his familiarity with the system during an unusual and unrepeatable offseason, brought in for two years (based on his contract) for a second, and perhaps final, attempt at being a starting quarterback in the league.
Regardless, though not a dead-parallel to what's occurring now, the connections between this anecdote and the 2012 Seahawks I think are somewhat striking and, if anything, Walsh is describing a situation similar to where the Seahawks could hypothetically find themselves heading into year three of the Carroll regime. My guess is Walsh preached the importance of preparation and contingency planning to Carroll during those conversations about the quarterback position that Danny referenced in his piece. Now is a time to have multiple plans, contingency or not.
Walsh was one of the most touted quarterback gurus of his time, and a coach that has had a profound impact on some of Carroll's beliefs about the structure of organizations and the game itself. As a Seahawks fan who wants to believe that winning football is right around the corner; my hope is that maybe, somehow, Carroll already paid homage to Walsh. I'd like to believe that coaching lineage could be on our side here.
The Seahawks are still in transition at quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck left, Charlie Whitehurst was the guy - the only guy - until the Seahawks found a more viable option for last season in Jackson. Right now, Jackson is the guy - the leader whose definition of a "ceiling" is still eluding some, while others are more decided either way - until someone comes in and proves they can give this team a better chance to win. Yes, easier said than done.
If Jackson was the plan for 2011, they need to have him be one of two, maybe even three, plans that transpire simultaneously into 2012, fully "knowing" that at least one of them will eventually work. But, one can never have "too much" depth at quarterback; not possible. If the Seahawks find someone they think is better than Jackson to play quarterback and he is, then so be it. I don't think I'd be on a limb saying that if Jackson starts Week 1 in 2012 and keeps his job into the season, he will have won the competition against improved, at the least more matured, and/or more capable depth. That would mean Jackson is more capable, too.
If anything, what I've learned from the Walsh excerpt is that if a team is almost in position to start competing for championships - and the ‘Hawks fan in me hopes this is the case - deficiency and the inability to get ‘er done at quarterback could be the rat poison to the entire thing - a far cry from Skittles. Furthermore, if a scenario like that is possible it needs to be accounted for ahead of time, especially when the team as a whole appears on the rise. Carroll fired Jeremy Bates and let Hasselbeck go for Bevell and Jackson in 2011, albeit under unique circumstances - and I think it's worth noting that during the last draft they debated but passed on a ready-to-play quarterback in Andy Dalton. Hopefully in reality, we're in the middle of the plan for defending against something like the scenario described by Walsh.
Right now, it's hard not to look at the current plan and think this is mostly Carroll's doing. I don't think his plan has fully run its course, and the offseason will be crucial for Jackson to establish his place in that plan, wherever he ultimately ends up. Whoever they choose to fill the depth chart at quarterback, they need players that can make it a competition soon, if not immediately, so that this team can pry open and fully exploit their "championship window." The current plan for solidifying the quarterback position should hold the mantra; fabricate nothing, earn everything.