The response has been repeated so much it has become almost ritualistic.
“I’ll be the last person here to say something bad about Rick Mirer, because I have tremendous respect for him as a person …”
Among all the behemoths gathered here at Eastern Washington University, it is the biggest but in Seahawks training camp.
Because Mirer was an honorable fellow and exemplary under critical fire, his former teammates and coaches go into a massive Radio City Rockettes tap dance in the face of the inevitable compare-and-contrast questions.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a “60 Minutes” inquisition to induce most to complete the phrase after the big but.
As offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski put it, “The numbers don’t lie.”
Nor do Mirer’s former receivers.
“The biggest change is that the quarterback situation is improved,” Mike Pritchard said. “We’re so far ahead of where we were last year. We have quarterbacks who are comfortable back there and know where to distribute the ball.”
The pass catchers are plainly thrilled that the pass throwers are John Friesz and Warren Moon.
“John and Warren are able to utilize the entire field,” Joey Galloway said. “They’re talented veterans, and Rick maybe was not as comfortable. You can tell John is reading the defense and both sides of the field.
“The quarterback and I have to be able to connect. If I can’t connect, it doesn’t make a difference. Those two guys are good at using the whole field, whereas Rick would become locked in to a certain route and a certain player; he would forget about everything else.”
Those traits were deemed unbreakable by Seahawks coaches, and so exasperating that Dennis Erickson pulled Mirer for Friesz at halftime of last year’s second game.
Although Erickson would later admit the move was a mistake because the Seahawks were behind by only six points and Mirer’s confidence subsequently was shattered, it illustrated the depth of apprehension about Mirer in the coaching staff.
The players felt the unease, too.
“This year, we have more drop-back and three-wide receiver formations,” Pritchard said. “Last year we didn’t, because we had to keep people in to protect a quarterback who wasn’t stable in the pocket. Now we have guys who can go through their reads and be stable in the pocket. That allows them to diversify the offense and throw the ball down the field more.”
No one Seahawks player is likely to benefit more from the QB change than Galloway, the explosive wideout who was supposed to get the ball a lot more last season. Instead, his 57 receptions were 10 less than his rookie season of 1995. Each year, he had just seven receiving TDs, far fewer than his abilities mandate.
“Looking back on it, I think last year might have been a lot of talk about getting me the ball,” Galloway said. “I don’t think we made the conscious effort. If you watch our practices this year, you see me going in motion, setting up inside and outside, backside, frontside.
“I feel really comfortable that we’re trying to get me the ball.”
Bratkowski estimated about 40 percent of Galloway’s catches came in Friesz’s six starts in place of Mirer.
The Seahawks had just 14 TD passes, worst in the AFC. Only five were by Mirer (along with 12 interceptions). Inside the opponent 20-yard-line, the Seahawks with Mirer often were helpless.
Leadership also seems more evident this year.
“When (Friesz or Moon) steps in the huddle, the team has a lot of trust in them,” Bratkowski said. “That’s a good starting point. When other guys are looking for leadership, when things are difficult, when a guy comes in that huddle who can do it, you’ve got a helluva lot better chance.”
Which is largely why Mirer is in Chicago, in exchange for a first-round draft pick that eventually became cornerback Shawn Springs.