Russell Wilson’s sophomore slump? Rest of NFL should be so lucky
by Art Thiel
Russell Wilson: hometown hero Credit: Larry Maurer via Wikimedia Commons
Such is the aura of success emanating from Russell Wilson that he claims the Mariners have yet to be defeated in the dozen games he has attended since coming to Seattle last baseball season. "They haven’t lost yet," he said Tuesday after practice. "I need to keep going.”
Well, no kidding, Russell. The Mariners tried to spend more than $100 million on free agent Josh Hamilton last winter, when all they needed was to comp Wilson some tickets.
He just became the World's Most Interesting Young Man and doesn't even need to stay thirsty: He eavesdrops on the NSA. He recommends dates for Martha Stewart. Tim Tebow now Russells.
OK. Enough. Making the Mariners champions is sufficiently preposterous.
But he did tell King Felix Hernandez, who caught his ceremonial opening pitch ahead of the Mariners game Saturday, to bring a catcher's mitt. Wilson, smiling, was worried his heater "might break a thumb or something."
Hernandez's riposte: "Bring the heat."
After the strike, the Safeco Field scoreboard posted a radar reading of 98 mph, which seemed a stretch by about 20 mph. Then again, the throw was made by Wilson. "You never know," he said, smiling. "You never know."
True. With Wilson, you never know.
After watching him sling bullets around the VMAC practice field Tuesday in the first of a mandatory three-day minicamp practice, it's clear that Wilson might be capable of breaking thumbs and bats. One particular jaw-dropper sent the football on a 50-yard tightrope to a receiver who failed to reach it. If he had, he would have discovered the ball's tip was still pointing up.
Boeing scientists are going to have to re-think the book of aerodynamics to account for Wilson. And while they're at it, they might try to figure out how a football pass can leave a contrail.
"He’s so much further ahead than he was last year at this time," coach Pete Carroll said. "He’s in such greater command. Just imagine — this was the first minicamp with the vets for him last year. It’s amazing how far he’s come."
Before it was asked, Carroll posed the question himself: How does Wilson top what he did last season?
Wilson had one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history for a quarterback — even though he finished third in the Rookie of the Year — and led the Seahawks on a run to the playoffs that included a 150 point three-game stretch.
"It’ll be hard for anybody to come back and have a better year," Carroll said. "It’s a challenge in itself just to do that. That’s just something that anybody that has had a good season has to deal with."
"He’s working really hard to command every aspect of what the quarterback position calls for. At the line of scrimmage, coming out of the huddle, pre-snap alerts, line of scrimmage calls and protections and run calls — the whole thing. We’ve given him everything, and he’s working to refine it and get it nailed. I couldn’t ask for more in terms of his preparation than what he’s putting together."
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com wrote recently that, during his first season, Wilson improved faster than any quarterback since Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Despite Carroll's conservative playcalling approach with Wilson early in the season, he wound up ninth in the NFL in touchdown passes (26), eighth in completion percentage (64.1) and fourth in QB rating (100.0).
One of the hoariest bromides in sports is the notion of the sophomore slump: when a breakout debut season is followed by mediocrity. Wilson can barely hear the phrase before calling a halt.
“I don’t even know those words," he said. "I don’t pay attention to it. I think the biggest thing is just focusing on tomorrow, focusing on the day, the next couple hours. Stay in the moment. Stay in the now. Whenever I do that, [I] have a better opportunity to play at a high level. I’m not concerned about [a sophomore slump] at all.”
Carroll was equally quick to dismiss the idea that Wilson is destined for a falloff.
"People try to put labels on you like that," he said, "that this is going to happen, that’s going to happen. He’s not letting anything happen. He's going straight ahead. He’s going to keep balling."
Footballing. Wilson still likes to think of himself as a baseball player. He did play minor league ball in college, but really, it's too easy for him.
All he has to do is sit there and the Mariners win.