RENTON, Wash. – Tarvaris Jackson took the first snap of Friday’s workout.
That this fact is even worth mentioning gives you an idea of just how scrutinized Seattle’s quarterback situation is going to be. The Seahawks are four months from their first meaningful game. Players weren’t wearing helmets nor pads during a noncontact workout, and no sooner had the Seahawks concluded a 45-minute workout than the coach was being asked about the competition between Jackson and free-agent addition Matt Flynn.
So who’s ahead?
“Who said ‘competition’ the most?” Pete Carroll asked, referring to interviews of Jackson and Flynn. “Whoever said that word the most when they were up here getting interviewed, he’s ahead right now.”
Well, Jackson lapped Flynn in that regard. He used some variation of compete 10 different times compared to five for Flynn, and while those measurements are obviously a joke, the question of Seattle’s quarterback is not. It will be debated around water coolers, discussed over radio waves and dissected with a clinical precision more suited for laboratory frogs for the next few months.
Quarterback is the most important position in the game, and the biggest uncertainty in Seattle. Jackson is the incumbent, Flynn the newcomer and then there’s the wild card: third-round pick Russell Wilson, who’ll show up Friday with the rest of the rookies for a three-day minicamp.
The Seahawks have one of the league’s youngest rosters and a top-10 defense, but ending the franchise’s streak of four straight losing seasons will largely depend on the performance of the quarterback. Who that is remains an open question, as does when the position will be decided.
“There’s no timeline,” Carroll said. “The format is really just to do everything I can to organize it and orchestrate so that they get a legit shot at showing what they can do.”
Carroll can’t remember staging a quarterback competition that was this open since he was at USC in 2003 and Matt Leinart beat out Matt Cassel, and it has been a decade since Seattle entered training camp with a legitimate question of who would start at quarterback.
The scrutiny for 2012 has already begun. Who had better velocity Friday? Looked like Jackson, but it was closer than you might expect. Flynn had the edge in accuracy. Each speaks with an accent, Jackson coming from Alabama and Flynn’s drawl sweetened by his native Texas.
Each one has questions to overcome.
Jackson threw for a career-high 3,091 yards last season in Seattle, went 7-7 as a starter, but faltered in the fourth quarter of several close losses. He’s recovered from the strained pectoral muscle that limited him the last half of the season, and knows that to keep his starting job he will have to develop a finishing touch he never showed last year.
“We didn’t have any drives to win at the end of the game,” he said, “and that’s what quarterbacks are supposed to do.”
Flynn is untested and untainted by failure. His limited experience has been nothing short of outstanding. A backup for four years in Green Bay, he passed for a franchise-record 480 yards in Week 17 last season, one of two regular-season starts in an NFL career in which he has been Aaron Rodgers’ understudy. As the highest-profile free-agent quarterback this year not named Peyton Manning, Flynn is now standing on center stage.
“It’s different because I know I’m going to be competing and I know everything I do matters,” Flynn said. “In Green Bay, I kind of had the luxury of sitting back and learning and being able to take my time in the progression of becoming a better quarterback. Now I get to come in here and compete.”
Everything about the competition is going to be scrutinized, right down to whether there should even be a competition. After all, Seattle signed Flynn to a three-year contract, and while that doesn’t mean Seattle has handed him the keys of the franchise, it does constitute their largest investment in a quarterback under Carroll.
But for now, Jackson is taking the first snap with the first unit at practice.
“He’s earned that here,” Carroll said. “But from that point, the competition is on.”
Quarterbacks are at least a little bit like religion. They require some faith, to be sure, and it’s bound to be a little bit confusing when you’re considering more than one. And while both quarterbacks said Friday there’s no bad blood or hostility in the competition, there’s also no denying the reality that there’s room for only one starter.
“We’re here just to compete and do the best that we can and let the coaches make the decisions,” Jackson said.