RENTON, Wash. – Everything is new at Seattle Seahawks headquarters – the coaching staff, the noise level and, yes, the utter lack of expectation, for the time being.
Also the guy sitting second chair at quarterback. That would be Charlie Whitehurst, late of the San Diego Chargers – tall, lanky, dark, with Fabio locks and a full beard, not just grody minicamp stubble.
“The ball gets out of his hand fast, he’s got a great arm, he’s athletic, 6-4,” assessed Jeremy Bates, the new offensive coordinator. “He’s everything we’re looking for in a backup right now.”
Which is to say, a starter.
OK, perhaps not yet. Whitehurst has not thrown a regular-season pass since arriving in the National Football League in 2006. In that respect he has more in common with you than he does with Matt Hasselbeck, who as Bates pointed out has been to Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl and, just as important, has crawled out of bed on Monday mornings feeling as if he’d gone 12 rounds with a Klitschko and 12 jams with the Rat City Rollergirls – and rallied to do it all over again the next Sunday.
But what Hasselbeck has never had to do in his nine years as a Seahawk is look in his rearview mirror. Now he does.
And what does he think of this development?
“I’m all in,” he said. “I love it.”
Not that he has any choice. This is Camp Competition, this first assemblage on the field in what presumably will be the Pete Carroll Era at Seahawks HQ – presumably because the last guy, Jim Mora, was granted only an interlude, or possibly a parenthesis. Whatever shortcoming the Seahawks have in the starting lineup – and there are many – it is Carroll’s premise that a push from underneath should start the triage.
This is how he explained it, at least, when he and general manager John Schneider called Hasselbeck at the NFL Players Association meetings in Hawaii over the winter with the news that they’d swapped some draft choices for the 27-year-old Whitehurst.
“Pete sort of laid out his general philosophy about football and football teams,” Hasselbeck said, “about how to win and that’s competing and bringing out the best in each guy. Ironically, it sounded so similar to Mike Holmgren talk about ‘I’m going to push you guys further than you even know you can be pushed. That’s what my goal is. I’m trying to get the absolute best out of you guys.’
“And that’s great, no sweat. It’s totally cool.”
It’s totally a departure at the quarterback position here, anyway. Trent Dilfer played the grizzled veteran backup to Hasselbeck for two years before the arrival of Seneca Wallace, who was never a threat to unseat the starter any more than Holmgren was going to give him regular turns catching passes and running back punts. He played sidekick so long he was variously known as Robin, Tonto and Barney Fife.
Whitehurst doesn’t have much of a resume, but there was another club (Arizona) interested in his services and the Seahawks did sign him to a two-year, $10 million contract. Hasselbeck is now 34 and coming off two years ravaged by injuries, defeat or both.
He’s also in the final year of his contract, though he insisted Wednesday that “I’m not focused at all on the contract thing. I’ve always felt if you just play football and focus on what happens between the lines everything takes care of itself.”
And he is not necessarily taking for granted that while Carroll has declared the competition is open, the pecking order remains.
“It happened to me my first year,” Hasselbeck recalled. “I was battling a bunch of guys in Green Bay to make the team. I was looking at the roster and those guys got cut and I stayed and I thought I made the team. Sure enough, Rick Meier got cut by the Chicago Bears and they went out and signed him instead.
“At an early part of my career I learned that you’re not competing with the guys on your roster. You’re competing with anybody in the world they can find – anybody on another team, somebody bagging groceries, anybody. That’s just how it is. That’s why this is such a competitive job to have.”
And so he “welcomes the change,” or so he says. Only this we know for sure:
He doesn’t want to be everything the new staff is looking for in a backup.
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