Russell Wilson keeps eyes on playbook, blocks out MVP chatter

QB keeps eyes on playbook and his mind in the zone, attending weekly sessions with sports psychologist

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.comDecember 6, 2013 

In response to talk about his MVP chances, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has led Seattle to an 11-1 record, says: “I don’t worry about that.”

JOE BARRENTINE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

RENTON — On and on went Russell Wilson.

From the offensive line to backup running back Robert Turbin to even backup tight end Luke Willson. Listing just about every Seahawks offensive player was how Wilson responded when asked about his MVP chances.

“I don’t worry about that,” Wilson said.

Many others are.

In his second season, Wilson has catapulted from the guy on the couch with the ecstatic wife on draft day to arguably the NFL’s most valuable player.

He does not have the totals of some of his competitors — namely Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, who is a shocking entrant in the conversation. But that’s never going to be the case for Wilson in Seattle’s run-first offense. He’s 17th in the NFL in yards passing.

What stand out are his efficiency numbers and his performance behind a rickety

offensive line.

Wilson is third in passer rating behind Foles and Manning. His interception percentage is 2.0, Manning’s is 1.9, and Foles’ is an amazing 0.0, though he has 109 fewer attempts than Wilson.

Wilson’s 11 wins have also propelled him into the upper tier of the MVP conversation. But the number 7 might be what should most be recognized.

That’s the number of games Wilson played without Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and starting right tackle Breno Giacomini. Also, Pro Bowl center Max Unger was absent for three of those weeks.

“That makes a huge difference for us, and you have a lot of respect for the guys that have stepped up and helped us win four or five games when those three guys were out,” Wilson said.

By some advanced metrics, Seattle’s offensive line was rated as the worst in the league without its two tackles. Wilson was forced to survive behind rookie fill-ins and veteran backups playing out of position, amplifying his solid numbers in downtrodden circumstances.

In addition to dissecting defenses, Wilson works to sharpen his mind.

Most Mondays, Wilson visits with sports psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais, once dubbed “sports psychologist to the stars.” Gervais has advised U.S. Olympic beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings and Felix Baumgartner, the man who visited the lunatic fringe of athletics last year when he recorded the highest free-fall in history by plunging 24 miles to solid ground.

Wilson has said he tries to find a spot to stare at in every stadium in order to return himself to “zero” during games. With Gervais, he’s working on being able to flip a switch, as he puts it, to be in a zone of intense focus at any time, particularly for three hours of Sunday mayhem.

“That’s allowed me to play at a higher level,” Wilson said. “I’d have to give some credit to that, I think; just be able to really focus throughout the game and be able to understand and just really, truly be in the moment and know what that feels like. I think the hardest thing for athletes is really to understand what that feeling feels like. I always say to Dr. Gervais, ‘Go to that place.’ When I’m in the zone, I always say, ‘Laser focused.’ ”

Something is working. While other young quarterbacks who appeared poised to join the NFL’s elite are tailing off, Wilson is improving.

Wilson said the last time the Seahawks played at San Francisco, on Oct. 18, 2012, about 75 percent of the playbook was open to him. Since then, things have been fully opened, and he has moved into a spot where he’s able to recognize and change things more often.

For instance, Monday night’s 52-yard completion to Doug Baldwin was an audible after Wilson recognized signs of a pending New Orleans blitz. Wilson said Thursday that he probably would have made the same call late last season, but that it would have taken him more time to recognize what the Saints were doing.

His completion percentage (64.9) and passer rating (108.5) are up from last season. Washington’s Robert Griffin III and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick can’t say the same.

Wilson’s developing fame has benefited his teammates, even ones who didn’t make his expansive reference list.

Defensive end Michael Bennett tried to make a reservation at a Seattle-area restaurant Tuesday night and was told there would be a significant wait, if there was a table at all.

Bennett claims to have called back, disguised his voice and said he was Wilson. Suddenly, he had a reservation.

When Bennett showed, a duped and upset hostess reluctantly showed him to the table that had been roped off for Wilson. Sparkling water awaited.

Wilson laughed at the story, adding it to the list of things he doesn’t worry about, which is good for a day since he might not have much longer to ignore the possibility of being NFL MVP.

todd.dybas@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @Todd_Dybas

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