RENTON, Wash. – Pete Carroll stepped to the podium adjacent to the practice field Tuesday afternoon, looking as defiant as a middleweight champion announcing his next title defense.
Staring into the faces and the cameras around him, Carroll announced that, once again, he is taking the road less traveled. He is ignoring convention and jumping, once more, into the abyss.
Russell Wilson, the rookie third-round pick who has been the thrill of summer camp, will start Friday’s enormously important third game of the exhibition season at Kansas City.
At some point veteran Matt Flynn, who was the presumptive first-team quarterback coming into camp, will play. But this will be Wilson’s week with the ones.
“He’s done a very nice job throughout and we think it’s warranted this,” Carroll said of Wilson.
Carroll will deny this, but almost since the day Wilson was drafted, it has seemed as if the Seahawks wanted him to win the quarterback competition. Through minicamps and training camp, Carroll has been unflinchingly effusive about Wilson.
And although he has had encouraging evaluations of Flynn’s work, the ratio of exclamation marks next to his comments on Wilson are about 10-to-1 to those for Flynn.
Carroll says the competition is ongoing and could last until the week before the opener, but it certainly appears now that this is Wilson’s job to lose. He wouldn’t be starting if Carroll didn’t think he could be the opening-day starter. This battle wouldn’t have gone this far if Carroll didn’t think Wilson could win it.
This competition could define Carroll’s legacy in Seattle. This is the high-risk game he loves to play. This call by Carroll is the undisputed heavyweight of wows.
This is Carroll telling critics to bring it on. This is a coach willing to take gambles few in his profession will take.
Carroll works without a safety net. This game of quarterback roulette can be played only by coaches who are supremely confident in what they do and secure in their jobs. Carroll is both.
He’s going to do it his way. It’s daring and risky and off-the-charts against the grain. But this is who Carroll is, and he revels in his unorthodoxy.
He was practically pugnacious while announcing his decision to go with Wilson.
“I know there’s a conventional wisdom about games three (of preseason) and all of that. And I understand that,” Carroll said. “We need to always be in tune with conventional wisdom, however, neither John (general manager John Schneider) nor I believe we have to operate under that guidance system. We haven’t been since we got here.”
And later Carroll said: “Some of you guys think, ‘Wait a minute, it’s Game 3 and whatever.’ But I told you we were going to need the preseason to figure this out.
“It’s about competition. That’s what we’ve always been about. If some of you don’t think that way, then (you) just don’t understand us. I can’t do anything about that. It’s a great competitive opportunity. It’s exciting and it’s been really fun to see it through.”
It’s certainly been fun, but it remains to be seen if it has been prudent.
In defense of his decision, Carroll argued that five rookie quarterbacks – Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill and Wilson – will start games this weekend.
But those other quarterbacks are playing for teams that were dreadful last season. The Colts, Redskins, Browns and Dolphins have nothing to lose by starting rookies. The Seahawks have a playoff spot to lose.
Wilson is an amazing young man. He is poised and smart and wise beyond his years. His right arm is strong and GPS-accurate. He is the quarterback of the future.
But he’s a rookie. And even the greatest rookies make bunches of mistakes.
In the meantime, this quarterback competition hasn’t been fair to Flynn, who last New Year’s Day threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns against Detroit. Flynn’s been robbed of reps. And in his two starts he’s been betrayed by his wide receivers.
When asked how Flynn handled the news that Wilson was starting Friday night, Carroll said he handled it like a competitor. In other words, Flynn was somewhere between and ticked off and enraged.
The competition continues. Pete Carroll is coaching without a net again. But Matt Flynn shouldn’t have to take the fall.