After a 182-word preamble that found Pete Carroll praising Tarvaris Jackson’s conditioning, improved agility, offseason work habits, arm strength and overall grasp of the offense, the Seahawks coach finally cut to the chase Tuesday.
“Matt’s the No. 1 quarterback,” Carroll said of Matt Flynn, the former Green Bay backup signed almost five months ago to be, well, the Seahawks’ No. 1 quarterback.
Flynn’s promotion to the first team isn’t permanent. Carroll stressed it’s only for one exhibition game – actually, for one half of one exhibition – and the three practices preceding it. Still, Flynn has earned the next-best thing to a starting job.
A starting job to lose.
If he manages to run a reasonably adept offense for the first 30 minutes Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans – if he keeps mistakes to a minimum and stays out of harm’s way – Flynn will retain the label of starting quarterback for at least another full week, no matter how dazzling rookie Russell Wilson looks in the second half.
Such are the benefits of first-team status. A backup can’t displace the No. 1 quarterback until the No. 1 quarterback plays his way out of it, and while it’s possible Flynn will succumb to stage fright amid the Saturday night lights at CenturyLink Field, it’s much more likely the promotion will stick into the regular season.
“Matt’s done a fantastic job so far,” said Carroll, whose summation of Flynn’s virtues included everything but the quarterback’s ability to, like, pass the ball. “He’s learned the system. He’s on it. He can make all the adjustments, all the calls. He sees the defense really well. I love that he’s moving well in the pocket. All of the things we’re asking him to do, he’s fit that together so far.
“Now I need to see him in a situation where he takes over and see what that looks like.”
For that matter, Matt Flynn needs to see himself in a situation where he takes over. Since his 2003 graduation from high school, Flynn has occupied the role of first-team quarterback for all of one season: In 2007, as a fifth-year senior on LSU’s national- championship team.
He spent his first year at LSU as a redshirt, the following year as a third-team QB, and the two years after that as a backup to JaMarcus Russell, he of the cannon arm and ravenous appetite for all things unrelated to excelling at football. Once Russell was out of the picture at LSU, Flynn started and played well, winning offensive MVP honors in the BCS title game against Ohio State.
Then it was on to Green Bay, where the seventh-round draft selection spent four seasons as Aaron Rodgers’ understudy. As Rodgers was evolving into a future Hall of Famer, Flynn held a clipboard on the sideline with the earnestness of the ultimate professional.
He was used to the drill.
Flynn answered two spot-starting assignments with statistics that were gaudy to the point of goofy – a Packers’ franchise-record 480 passing yards and six touchdowns against Detroit in last season’s regular-season finale – but don’t expect any gaudy numbers Saturday.
All Carroll wants from Flynn is high-percentage passing attempts, the wherewithal to recognize a blitz, and a steep conviction that the best way to a punctuate a first down is to achieve another first down.
Carroll doesn’t demand his quarterback to be a savior, and yet it was Jackson’s inability to step up and save four winnable home games last season that reduced him from incumbent quarterback into a candidate for the preseason-cut list.
Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt in Pete Carroll’s world. It merely breeds the stuff of Plan B. When Carroll and general manager John Schneider signed Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract in March, with $10 million guaranteed, the Seahawks essentially acknowledged their commitment to Plan B.
Fans might be wondering why Carroll agonized over a decision that seemed No-Duh simple, but really, how much agonizing was there? Nine days into training camp, the Hawks identified a No. 1 quarterback. Flynn still has the rest of the week to savor his opportunity, and four exhibition games to prove he’s as worthy of starting as his bosses suspect.
“To make a big decision like this,” Carroll said Tuesday, “it’s about your information that you gather, and I want really, really good information coming in so that we can make a really clear-cut choice as we do it.”
Since his senior year as a high-school quarterback in 2002, Flynn has spent a virtual decade – all but one season – on the sideline, gathering information, waiting to assert himself as a clear-cut choice.
As somebody whose NFL experience has been confined to comfort and solitude of the press box, I’m in no position to offer Matt Flynn advice. But what the heck, I’ll offer some anyway:
Your time has come, your opportunity has arrived. The ball is your hands. Have fun.
As for that uneasy sleep Friday and the pregame butterflies awaiting Saturday, don’t worry. They’re just nature’s way of letting you know you’re firstname.lastname@example.org