Jul 28, 2012; Renton, WA, USA; NFL: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn passes during practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE
I might as well get this portion out of the way because I know that the quarterback question is the biggest storyline for the Seahawks this season. At this point, as you well know, it's still a three-way competition between Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Flynn, and Russell Wilson and on Saturday, Jackson got the 'first' reps and on Sunday it was Flynn. Today, the team will take a look at Wilson.
Before I share my notes there are obvious caveats to anything I write. First of all, it's still very, very early and quarterbacks and receivers are still trying to get in sync with timing and chemistry. Second, players were in shorts and jerseys, and one very important part of quarterbacking -- pocket presence and an ability to see pressure and still make throws when you're about to get hit, 'stare down the gunbarrel,' as you'll hear Jaws say -- well, it's virtually impossible to judge at this point but it's one of the most defining and important things that separate the good from the bad, and the elite from the middling. What's a sack? If the QB gets touched? There were several plays where a defensive lineman would break through the line and then stop just short of annihilating the man in the red jersey, with a throw and completion coming out shortly thereafter, drawing 'oohs' and 'ahhhs' from the crowd on the berm. Conversely, with the defense more or less knowing a pass is coming, the chess match part of the game - run verses pass - is more or less eliminated, giving the defense a huge advantage.
It's also worth pointing out that though it's training camp, you should remember that the first-team Seahawks' offense is going up against one of the best secondaries in the NFL with hodgepodge of receivers that may or may not even make the roster and a small corner of the playbook. Sidney Rice has missed a lot of action thus far, as has Kellen Winslow, both easing back into action. The offensive side of the football is going to tend to look sloppy because the fact of the matter is, the defense is far ahead of the offense in terms of talent and continuity.
With all that said, I suppose it's still fun to speculate and share observations, but only if taken with a huge grain of salt. My overall impression of the group, as a whole, was this: I came away from two days of practice feeling a lot better about the Seahawks' quarterback position than I remember feeling last season, but I still didn't think that any one quarterback stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I'll say this now and then explain below, but I think that Matt Flynn had a slight edge overall on the weekend, but I think the closeness of the battle thus far can be confirmed by the wildly differing reports on the effectiveness of each quarterback from the different observers. Some thought that Flynn looked amazing, some thought that Russell Wilson ruled both days. About the only thing that's been congruent among most reports so far though has been that Tarvaris Jackson just looks like Tarvaris Jackson.
Talking about Jackson, for me, will be easy, because he looks pretty much exactly as he looked last season, torn pectoral or not. He has a wonderful arm, and can sling it downfield with ease and grace. He puts on a clinic in positional drills, passing to receivers as they go through their route tree, and is accurate 25+ yards downfield. He looks exceedingly comfortable throwing the deep ball and tends to look calm and collected in most drills, including 7-on-7, when the respective lines are off doing their own thing. This demeanor dissipates, as you can probably guess, when there's a pocket closing in around him in 11-on-11 and he still holds on to the ball for two long, looks unsure in the pocket, drifts into pressure rather than away from it, and forces throws that aren't there. Really, as said, it's early, but he seems like the same player that we all saw last year. He can really, really impress you with some things, but when the bullets are flying, seems a beat slow.
No plays that Jackson made in the two days of practice really stood out to me in particular, and overall he looked decent in several facets of the game. He threw a pick-six in Saturday's practice but each quarterback made their fair share of mistakes, each giving up the football to the defense. With about 15 or 20 minutes left of practice on Sunday, I turned to my buddy and asked him rhetorically, "Can you tell me, based on this practice, who the best quarterback on the team is?" He just shrugged and smiled, but in what was almost a pointed response, Matt Flynn had an answer.
The final portion of Sunday's practice was dominated by Flynn as he strung together four or five very nice completions and the offense took back some of the momentum that the defense had mostly owned over the first two practices. He spread the ball around, threw deep down the seam and checked down underneath, and for lack of a better way of putting it, looked like an NFL quarterback. This series, or couple of series by Flynn left pretty much everyone there with a great taste in their mouth about the Seahawks' new signalcaller. But, overall during the two days, I don't think that Flynn looked spectacular.
In positional drills, Flynn looks great on the intermediate and short routes, throwing very accurately and confidently. This is right on par with the scouting reports and in that sense, he's certainly lived up to my hopes and expectations. However, also par with the scouting reports, his deep ball is scattershot. In positional drills, he often over- or under-threw his receivers into the endzone. Much of this can be attributed to timing and chemistry, but these two practices are all I can go off of. He does have a weird throwing motion on deep passes -- almost pushing the ball out, and it doesn't have a ton of velocity and the trajectory is probably a little high. Again, this is right on par with the scouting reports and shouldn't be surprising. All that said though, I do think that he has plenty of arm to play quarterback in the NFL. People seem to hear 'he has a weak arm' and imagine wobbly, stricken ducks falling ten yards short of every target. This is simply not the case.
Flynn made a few throws that 'answered some questions for me', as the Seahawks put it when they had him in for a workout prior to signing him. He has enough of an arm to play the position, but it's just not going to be his forte to throw it deep. Can he succeed in a system that will ask him to take some shots downfield on play action and on bootlegs? I think so, based on a few throws he made this weekend. Is he going to be as good as Tarvaris Jackson in those particular areas? Absolutely not. He probably never will be.
Where he shines, for me, is in the pre-snap phase. I do believe, though I'm didn't track this closely, that Flynn caused four or five offsides penalties on the defense and he regularly worked his cadence so well that the defense showed its hand on a blitz on several more occasions. There was one particular play on Sunday that was a great example of how I believe Matt Flynn will succeed as a starter.
He worked the cadence calmly and patiently, diagnosing a blitz on the strong side of the formation. He settled back in under center and lifted his left arm in the direction of Doug Baldwin, in what I assume was a hot-route signal. Baldwin ran a quick slant comeback route just past the linebacker level of the defense and when the blitz came from that spot, Flynn fed him for a quick 5-yard completion or so. He saw the blitz prior to the snap, checked into the correct hot-route, got the ball out in seconds to an open underneath receiver in Baldwin. It was beautiful.
I'll be the first to say that confirmation bias is probably at play with my analysis, but to me, Flynn stood out simply because of his work at the line. He just looks comfortable as he surveys the defense. He's calm. He's collected. As I said, he was able to draw several offsides penalties from the defense and his lone interception this weekend was on a 'free-play' where after the defense was drawn offsides, he rolled right and delivered a deep ball on the run 30 yards downfield. The pass was hotly contested but overall fairly decently placed but defender Phil Adams came down with an interception after grappling with a receiver I cannot remember.
Still, as several other accounts have confirmed, Flynn missed some throws that I'm sure he'd like to have back. He still needs to work on chemistry with receivers and the offense still did look sluggish for the most part with Flynn under center. Despite this, I still go back to the four years of experience working with Aaron Rodgers and learning in the Packers quarterback school during the offseason. Greg Cosell, in one of Doug Farrar's NFL preview podcasts for Shutdown Corner last season, mentioned that he thinks Rodgers is the best in the NFL at diagnosing a defense at the line -- he shared one anecdote where Rodgers came up to the line, pointed at a linebacker, said "[So-and-so] is blitzing,' he then made his check, that linebacker blitzed and Aaron threw a completion on a hot route. This part of the game is underrated, in my opinion, and for me it's the place that Matt Flynn must prove he's superior to Jackson. If he was able to glean methods and signals on diagnosing a defense from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers game-tape study over the past four years, that puts Flynn in a great position. It's what I'll be watching closely, and it's this ability that I think will eventually win him the starting job.
Moving on to Russell Wilson, who will be getting all the 'first-team' snaps today. I thought that Wilson too had some ups and downs -- I think he looks to run a little too quickly still, and that's something that will have to be coached out of him. There were a few very, very encouraging instances where he stepped up into the pocket to deliver a throw but in general, he often looked to bounce it outside rather than step up into the 'boxing ring', so to speak.
He also was a bit scattershot with his accuracy but again, I think it's a bit early to really worry about that with any of these quarterbacks. Chemistry and timing with receivers takes time in the same way that I'd imagine touch around the hoop takes time for a basketball player. Repetition is key, and these guys are just getting back to form and have yet to reach that 'game shape' in any facet.
Overall, I like Russell's potential and still believe he's got a shot as an NFL quarterback. I didn't notice his height (lack thereof) on many plays - he's very confident and poised and though there are obvious things he must work on, he showed some good things. My buddy turned to me on Sunday and perhaps said it perfectly when he pointed out, "well, if anything, he doesn't look like a rookie."
Well, we're now over 2000 words on the quarterback position so I'll stop there. As I pointed out in the start, take a huge grain of salt with everything I just wrote because it's still very early, they are still in shirts and shorts, and there's a lot of football to be played even before the preseason starts. I'll follow up as soon as I can on the other positions of note from this weekend, but I figured I'd hit on what most people are probably most curious about.