RENTON, Wash. – Darrell Bevell first noticed it while watching his alma mater play on television.
The Seahawks offensive coordinator had no way of knowing he’d soon be coaching Russell Wilson, but Bevell, a former Wisconsin quarterback himself, couldn’t help but marvel at how cool Wilson was under pressure as he led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl in his only season at Wisconsin.
“Just sitting there watching him, not having any clue (that Wilson would be a Seahawk) – I was a fan at the time just watching Wisconsin – I couldn’t believe how poised he was,” Bevell said. “I mean, everything’s storming down around him and he looked like he was going through pat and go (drill). That’s just something that he has always brought, and he’s brought it here with him as well.”
And with the Seahawks playing without three starting offensive linemen in each of the past two weeks – they should get center Max Unger back this week – that poise has never been more evident. So often against Houston and Indianapolis, a play looked dead before it had a chance to develop as pass rushers enveloped the pocket. And so often Wilson stayed calm, escaped, and either found a receiver down field or took off to gain 10 or 20 yards on the ground.
As fellow rising-star quarterback Andrew Luck put it last week, “Oh my gosh, he’s a phenomenal playmaker when things go south.”
Thanks to injuries to tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, as well as Unger, things went south quite often over the past two weeks, and with Giacomini and Okung still recovering, pass protection will likely continue to be an issue. Despite a 4-1 start, some might look at Wilson’s numbers – the lower completion percentage and passer rating, and the four interceptions in five games after a nearly perfect second half last season – and assume he’s experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump. And they’d be wrong to do so.
Where some might see Wilson missing an occasional throw he would have hit last year, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sees the reason his team survived in Houston despite an overwhelming pass rush, and why the Seahawks pulled off a comeback in Carolina when the run game wasn’t able to get on track.
“I think he’s doing a fantastic job under the circumstances,” Carroll said. “I think he’s kept us alive in the games and given us the opportunity to have a chance to win. Very few guys could do what he’s doing.”
So how does he do it? Wilson has juggled minor league baseball with college football, he changed schools for his final year of college, then he went from being a third-round pick to a Week 1 starter in the NFL, yet he says, “I don’t remember the last time I was ever flustered.”
Wilson says one of his keys to staying calm is to find a spot in the stadium where he can focus “just to bring me back to zero, just to make me relax or whatever” when he feels like he might be getting too high or too down in the heat of the game.
The other big key for Wilson remaining calm under pressure is trusting the work ethic that drives him to spend so much time during the week preparing for those three hours on Sunday.
“The other thing I do is just focus on the fundamentals,” he said. “Focus on the fundamental of my footwork, focus on the fundamentals of the protections and all of that, and at the end of the day that’s what it is, because I know I’ve prepared the right way, so that’s what helps me play and what helps me stay relaxed in those moments.”