Russell Wilson's strong performance over the weekend at Seahawks' rookie camp - he took close to 500 snaps and threw nearly 400 passes - caused a major stir, especially considering Pete Carroll officially declared Wilson part of the three way competition at quarterback once the activities were over. To an extent, the media/scouts' buzz about his potential - in other words, everyone's continued surprise as he continues to succeed - reopened Pandora's box in regards to Wilson and his unique skill set. It's not uncommon for a young player to be impressive in shorts and no pads - which he should be - but still, he made a positive impression; thoughts about his anticipation, his high release, and the ability to throw people open downfield were just some of the observations passed along via twitter and other mediums by those on the scene.
As I was able to see exactly none of what occurred, I did what I considered to be a decent consolation prize and went back to the three "game tapes" of him from 2011. Additionally, though I advocated for Wilson up to the draft - my first choice third rounder heading into day two - I never posted anything visual pertaining to him. So, the conjunction of the two sentiments above has gotten me to here. In case you're beginning to wonder; this isn't a "why Wilson is great" themed post or a comprehensive scouting report, but instead a look at some of the little things that made him stand out over the past months - when applicable, how that translates to his "fit" in Seattle. These aren't necessarily the best or biggest plays he makes, just ones that show what he can do - with a few negative plays sprinkled in for some balance.
At the least, with all of the gushing quotes that have been said pertaining to him by Carroll, Schneider, and his Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema; though quarterback talk will be abundant in the coming months, it could help to pair some visuals with the overwhelming praise that has been thrown on him in the past few weeks. As his first impression is fresh, hopefully the tape will help give a rough idea of what seemingly occurred in rookie camp last weekend.
The first video, the loss at Michigan State when John Schneider texted Pete Carroll from the sidelines about how much Wilson was tilting the field, after the jump.
At Michigan State
At 0:37 -- the defensive tackle reads the back and knows Wilson has the ball, and another defender comes free from the backside; with poise, he flicks it over the backside defender to the fullback for the easy touchdown.
At 0:50 -- the safeties bite on Wilson's fake - which they had been doing - which allows Wilson to manipulate the weakside linebacker, creating a small window and sticking it in there on the post.
On the next play Wilson throws a pick, a miscommunication with the receiver as Wilson tried to stick it in between the two safeties. At 1:38 watch how he reacts and finishes the play, a competitor.
Negative play alert: At 2:00 he takes a safety in the end zone, due to a grounding penalty. A sticky situation here.
At 2:40 Wilson is able to find a crease and slip downfield. I like how he gets below the contact, something he does pretty often. On the next play he shows off more agility and even a stiff arm.
At 3:40 the defense bites hard on Wilson's fake again. Wilson shows great patience by letting his outside receiver run the slant as the underneath receiver draws the corner up in his into his zone; then the outside receivers slant is broken off into a corner route, in front of the safety. Maybe a smidgen underthrown, but only where the offensive guy can get it.
At 3:56 is a trap-shovel option where they pull the backside guard, giving Wilson one receiver to throw to - the fullback was out wide and is blocking - on the sideline. Impressive body control on the strong cross body throw and a conversion on 2nd and long.
At 4:12 on 1st and 10, Wilson keys and diagnoses quickly leading to the backfield wheel throw. The throw itself is snap-throw over the bearing-down defender.
At 5:06 the safety sneaks up and Wilson makes easy work of it with a throw down the middle.
Negative play alert: 5:40. This play is called whoops.
At 5:55 is a beautiful deep ball from the pocket - he slides, finds the lane and throws over defender. The receiver doesn't break stride, and drops the ball. A non-Wilson whoops.
At 6:42 he does a nice job simply sliding forward out of the pressure - he didn't have many options - but makes the play when he gets the defender up in the air with a strong pump, and then shows some speed.
At 8:04 On 1st and 20; the pocket collapses and instead of stepping up, Wilson rolls back and out. Noticing that the safety is deep 1 on 1 with the receiver and the corner is defending up in the flat, Wilson buys some time and like he did earlier in the game at 3:40 hits the deep throw along the sideline, this time in a very different situation.
He throws the receiver open 40 yards downfield, with a ball that travelled 55 yards on a rope - it was actually a bit longer as the throw was from the middle of the field - and placed on the sideline. Big time throw here, and I think one that puts to rest any questions about Wilson's arm strength. And while the play where Charlie Whitehurst led Sidney Rice out of bounds on a potential touchdown play in Cleveland Week 7 last year comes to mind - sorry to bring it up - this play is a totally different animal.
At Ohio State
Last week I noted Wilson saying an important part of the game is putting the ball in the "right place at the right time." Early in this game his usage of the fullback and tight ends on 1st and 2nd down in the flat stood out. While not the sexiest offensive strategy, Wilson makes smart throws to keep the chains moving or make 3rd down more manageable. I think this skill fits well in Seattle's offense. Take a look at Danny's post from December on the Seahawks' offensive identity - primarily looking at ‘21' and ‘22' formations and the use of the fullback/tight end in the passing game - for a few examples of what I'm talking about, the use of the fullback and tight end on 1st and 2nd down play action, in greater detail.
At 0:13 and at 0:34 on play action, Wilson gets easy 2nd down yardage using this strategy to set up 3rd and short, and 1:02 is a first down throw to the right flat, into the outside hip/into the chest of the runner - away from the defender - letting him turn upfield. Wilson takes an extra split second to get this one right and it pays off with flawless location on this pass.
Going backwards for a second, at 0:46 is play action to a snap touch throw, to where only the receiver can get it.
At 1:30, on fringe of red zone, take a shot - smart throw, but high. Another inaccuracy moment, but right throw at the right time.
Here's a contrast to earlier fullback example. At 1:58 is a possession that fails. It starts with a heavy set, play action explosive play opportunity from deep within own territory - something Bevell does on occasion - that results in a smart throw away; more flat work on 2nd down isn't sexy but it's sound, especially playing with the lead.
At 2:40 the long arms help as Wilson stands tall and makes a big throw to the right spot, low where only the receiver can get it. Also, note the footwork - on his hop/crossover step, notice how when he comes down to finish his drop his feet come down simultaneously - his left foot in front of the right - and he's ready to throw. This adjustment is something he does on most 3rd downs or when playing from behind. At 2:55 shows a contrast; he throws tall again and from a weird arm angle, but notice the slight change in the tempo of his hop/crossover/finish of the drop from the play before. A more traditional drop, but again an explosive passer on the balls of his feet. This maneuver is something to watch in general, one of my favorite attributes of his.
Negative plays alert: At 3:39 he completely misses the receiver. Note here is the quick footwork again. On the next play, he gets caught in the pressure.
At 4:10 is a smart, snap-throw away.
At 5:10 is another throw to the fullback on 1st down, play action from a heavy set.
Negative play alert: At 5:19 another intentional grounding deep within his own territory. Two games and two such penalties is something to note
At 5:42 is a quick screen that is successful due to Wilson. The three-step pump-fake requires great footwork, balance, body control and strong hands. The pump holds the safety for just a minute, keeping the separation and helping his receiver get open. The quick-flick, second baseman-like throw is on the money.
At 5:53 Play action draws the safeties up and Wilson launches a smooth bullet down the left hash from the pocket, which is almost caught.
At 7:20 Wilson does a great job of manipulating the zone. The receiver running up the hash draws the safety, along with a Wilson pumpfake, and then Wilson throws the outside receiver open with a back-shoulder throw. The defender doesn't have a play on it, but the receiver can still turn and run instead of heading out of bounds.
The games ends with Wilson making a great effort and a giving his receiver a few legitimate chances to make the play 1 on 1 downfield, but to no avail. On the final play of regulation Wilson throws a ball up and helps his receiver draw PI. On the final play, Wilson the ball is stripped/tipped as he releases. An odd sequence and Wisconsin losses, but he keeps them in it until the end.
2011 Big 10 Title Game vs. Michigan State
Moving much quicker through this tape, a few examples to build on above and lead us to the conclusion.
At 0:47 he slide-steps - looks like an elongated one-step - and throws with pressure in his face. He shows some savvy, negotiates double a-gap blitz and just sticks it in there.
At 1:10 sneaks out backside on a halfback pass and makes the catch.
Negative play alert: At 2:00 Wilson doesn't sense the backside pressure, after the tackle gets leaning and crossed by the rusher, and is clobbered. Realistically though, not much he could have done here.
At 2:21 another shovel-trap option, and Wilson throws a vicious stiff arm.
Negative play alert: At 2:43 Wilson has trouble with backside pressure on the move, similar to the example above in the Ohio State game.
At 3:45 we see a rare spread (00) formation, and he throws to he fullback in the flat. At 8:10 is the same thing, just on the other side.
At 4:50 it's 3rd and 17, but that's no issue. He shows toughness by evading the corner blitz, then rolls right and quickly sets - notice how quickly that left foot is down - to launch a cross field, 50 yard bomb for the touchdown. The safety had no chance on this ball.
At 5:45 he looks for the fullback or the wheel route (like in first game MSU game) but the ball gets batted. Wilson catches it! We've seen Drew Brees do that before...
At 6:10 he keys and diagnoses the coverage well, shows good anticipation and makes the flick/snap-throw with pressure in his face.
Negative play alert: At 7:05 a play similar to the first touchdown pass, this one gets batted down on a two point conversion.
At 8:42 is a 4th and 6, game pretty much on the line; he rolls, searches, and throws over a defender to where his receiver has a chance and the safety doesn't.
Then watch the two point play, as Wilson ends things in styllllleee. So stylish, in fact, the gametape has the play twice. Personally, I think this final play puts it all together and shows what Wilson can be when he's at his best; intelligence, athleticism, poise, precision in the biggest of moments.
In conclusion, while not a complete picture of Wilson's game, especially considering it's only a three game sample, hopefully some of his positive attributes are more apparent: he can throw 50 yards or more on a rope; the baseball background shows up in his ability to flick-snap release the ball - think Michael Vick, but not quite as strong an arm - with velocity when on the run; he can throw when his body is in a variety of positions, including across his body when moving left. His mobility doesn't turn him into a run first quarterback, more Drew Brees or Ben Roethlisberger than Michael Vick in this regard; his intelligence translates through his play, making smart throws and taking shots when appropriate.
The fluidity and balance he shows during his drop is impressive - this will sound a bit weird, but in particular I'm captivated by the way he maneuvers his lower left leg (knee to toes) and is able re-set his feet, and in general he plays from and explodes off the balls of his feet; his athleticism threatens the edge in the passing game and complements a strong running game, allowing the game plan to move the pocket with various methods; he can get to the ground and away from contact quickly when running, perhaps another baseball influence. Strong hands and long arms allow him to make small plays into bigger ones; he can make throws over defenders in his face; he's great at leading his receivers open, capable of putting the ball where only his guy can get to it. Last, but certainly not least, he comes alive when playing from behind or in the 4th quarter, making huge plays in huge moments. Based on Seattle's struggles in this area in 2011, there's no doubt the way he usually elevates those around him and tilts the field in key situations will be a welcome sight if/when he gets the opportunity.