RENTON – Carl Smith recites the numbers off the top of his head: His backup quarterbacks have a combined 54 NFL starts and 15 years of experience.
His firmly entrenched starter, Russell Wilson, is coming off his rookie season.
So what does that mean as the Seattle Seahawks start the countdown to the season with an exhibition match Thursday evening at San Diego? Generally, teams try to limit playing time for the starters. Except in this case, Wilson is the one who could most benefit from the experience.
Well, the only thing Smith, the Seahawks quarterbacks coach, is going to guarantee is Wilson will not be on the field in mop-up time late in the game.
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“Although … maybe we ought to just do what we did last year, because he ended up doing pretty well,” Smith said of Wilson, who became the starter, tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes (26) and registered the highest single-season passer rating in franchise history (100).
As a third-team rookie in last season’s exhibition opener, Wilson played in the second half with and against a flock of other hopefuls, and immediately showed himself to be a playmaker. He completed 12 of 16 pass attempts for 124 yards with a passing touchdown and a 32-yard rushing TD.
So, we’re going to see a lot of a pair of journeyman backups. The Seahawks’ initial depth chart has Tarvaris Jackson as the second-team quarterback and Brady Quinn as the third.
“The competition is at hand now, there’s no doubt, and it’s a big deal to Brady and T-Jack,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ve performed well in practice, they’ve handled themselves and the team very well. We’re really fortunate to have their experience … they’ve got four games to prove it and they’ll get a lot of playing time and have a great chance.”
Although the Seahawks have sputtered on offense at times during training camp – in large part because of playing every day against one the league’s top defenses – Jackson has looked sharp and comfortable.
He should. The offense and personnel haven’t changed much since he was cut by the team in training camp last season before spending the regular season as a backup in Buffalo.
Jackson said the offense has a few “new wrinkles” but the terminology is the same. The biggest thing, he said, is just getting back on the field in game situations.
“I haven’t really played football since I left, so I’m just trying to get back into the swing of playing football and running the offense,” he said when asked about preseason challenges.
The Seahawks went 7-7 in Jackson’s 14 starts for the Seahawks in 2011, and he earned widespread admiration from his teammates for his toughness while playing through injuries and his leadership.
“I didn’t really want to leave last year, but you know it’s a business,” he said after having been viewed as redundant after Wilson proved himself in the preseason and Matt Flynn had been signed to a big free-agent contract. “Now I’m back and happy to be here.”
Serving as a reserve behind the rookie the team drafted last season “is a little different, but at the same time, you just try to be the best you can be and just take advantage of every rep because you never know,” he said.
Quinn is more of an unknown in Seattle, although he played under Smith for the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s going real well,” Quinn said of his assimilation, “although it’s a different system than what I’ve been in before.”
Quinn was a first-round pick of the Browns in 2007, but his 20 NFL starts in Cleveland and Kansas City resulted in four wins, and his touchdown-to-interception rate is 12-17.
His objective in the preseason is to “be efficient, consistent, take care of the football and execute well enough to keep drives going,” he said.
But it’s also to continue to serve as a voice of experience for Wilson.
“It’s somewhat of a unique position,” Quinn said of having two veterans behind the young star. “But the league is getting younger, so we do our jobs but also try to help him continue to grow and share the knowledge we’ve gained through our careers.”
Smith is comfortable with the situation, particularly in the meeting room.
“I’ve had them both before and they’re terrific guys,” Smith said of Jackson and Quinn. “They’re working hard on themselves, but really helping Russell, too. He can ask them stuff, and he does all the time.”
The experience of the backups, Smith said, means there are no training wheels on any of his quarterbacks.
“They’re really comfortable in the huddle,” he said. “They understand defenses so they can change the protection, change the routes and help the guys get lined up. And Brady is throwing way better than he did when I had him in Cleveland in ’07.
“Here’s the thing, and I’ve said this from Day One,” Smith said. “We’ve got three pros playing quarterback for us.”