When Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll responds to a question, he doesn’t always answer it directly. So as a reporter you’re usually left parsing words – reading between the lines and looking for hints as to what his real intentions are moving forward with this team.
And I think Carroll provided a few clues as to what he might do at the quarterback position during his pre-draft press conference in April.
Asked what his ideal vision is for the quarterback of his system, Carroll had this to say:
“We’re always looking for a guy that can manage the offense, really,” says Carroll. “We’ve always said, even way back with Heisman Trophy winners (at USC), we were never structuring the offense to be carried by one guy. We always wanted to have a guy that would be very understanding of the system and of the people and the assets around him that could mix and move the football about. With that, we’ve always liked a quarterback that could move. We’ve always liked the ability to move because it fits with our running game and the style of complimentary throwing game that we like to match up with it. So the movement quarterback is – we don’t need to have a guy that’s a pure runner. We’re not talking about that.
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“But a guy that has the ability to move and get out of the pocket and give us the variety of sets where we want to get that quarterback to slow down the pass rush and stuff. That’s always been part of it. That hasn’t always been what we’ve had but that’s always been something that we’ve looked for in the ideal.”
Taking care of the football was the No. 1 priority Carroll sought from his quarterback last season. And that’s why Matt Hasselbeck found himself in the doghouse at times with Carroll – particularly during the stretch of the year when he had 13 turnovers in four games. Three of the four games were losses for Seattle.
Hasselbeck talked about the conflict he had with making the conservative play versus taking a risk and trying to make a play down the field that could result in either six points or a turnover, particularly with his team behind and the offense struggling.
“I’ve got to get less frustrated during games, that’s the bottom line,” Hasselbeck said during that stretch. “Because when you get frustrated, you try to make stuff up that’s not there. You play outside yourself, and I really think that was Pete’s message to the team on Monday. ‘Hey guys, you don’t need to make the best play of your life, some highlight reel play. Just do the plays you do in practice. If every body just does what they do there, we win.’”
Some believe friction existed between former Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and Hasselbeck, and that the veteran quarterback did not fit his system, which relied somewhat on stretching the field vertically in the passing game.
That’s not accurate. Bates liked Hasselbeck because he had a good understanding of his offense, which allowed Bates to expand his playbook. And both Bates and Hasselbeck are risk takers who believe in the idea of creating big plays and keeping the defense on its heels by pushing the ball down field when the opportunity is there.
Bates breaks it down here.
“We try to find matchups where we can get one-on-one matchups, and you take advantage of that,” he said. “And we’re going to be aggressive. It’s tough in the NFL to have 15-play drives and nickel and dime. There’s so many different defensive fronts and coverages and stuff, if you have the opportunity to take a shot, you take the shot, and the good teams win. We’re still going to be aggressive. We’re going to try and convert on third-and-one, fourth-and-one, third-and-10, but whatever the best matchup is, that’s how we’re going to play it.”
While Hasselbeck possesses more playmaking ability and would allow Seattle to do more in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's scheme because of his quick thinking at the line of scrimmage, I think Carroll could be leaning toward handing over the reins to Whitehurst for a couple reasons.
First, Whitehurst will not take as many risks, can move a little better outside the pocket, and still possesses a strong enough arm to keep defenses honest with the deep ball. He’s basically the game manager that Carroll is looking for, allowing the Seahawks to become more run-oriented offensively and to play from a defensive mindset by limiting turnovers and controlling field position – something all defensive-minded head coaches want to do.
Second, the team is set to pay Whitehurst $4 million next season if he’s on the opening day roster, meaning one of the highest paid guys on the team would be sitting the bench. The Seahawks would have to hand over at least $7 million in guaranteed money for Hasselbeck to return, along with committing to him as the starter for probably the next two seasons.
The Seahawks did a nice job of creating some cap space in 2010 so they could spend in free agency this year, and I think they would like to use that money elsewhere, like bringing in offensive guard Robert Gallery from Oakland. I believe it’s also one of the reasons they did not sign defensive tackle Brandon Mebane to a multi-year deal before the lockout began in March.
And I know that some people have argued for Seattle to bring back Hasselbeck as a bridge quarterback to the future. But hey, the future is now. Both Carroll and general manager John Schneider are not fooled by this team’s 7-9 record and playoff run last year. They understand that this team still is a few years away from regularly competing for division titles and Super Bowls. That’s why they drafted two offensive linemen with the team’s first two picks. That’s why Carroll said they could not afford to draft a quarterback early this year – they’re still establishing a foundation.
So really, it makes no sense to pay a quality quarterback like Hasselbeck at least $7 million in guaranteed money to come back and play for a team that could be even worse than last season. Seattle will be relying on a young roster of developing players, and face a daunting schedule in 2011, with road games at Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, Cleveland, Dallas and Chicago, and home games against Atlanta, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, along with traditional matchups against NFC West opponents.
Finally, Schneider was groomed by Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson in Green Bay, so he’s not afraid to take risks and take the heat for an unpopular decision. He was there when they decided to trade Packer legend Brett Favre to the N.Y. Jets and go with Aaron Rodgers.
Now, by no means am I comparing Whitehurst to Rodgers. But what I am saying is that the Seahawks understand this is their opportunity to move on from Hasselbeck and begin to figure out the process of who will be the team’s quarterback of the future.
In this scenario, the team likely will pursue Kevin Kolb, and if they are unsuccessful they at least drive of the price for Arizona to make the deal. They settle in on Whitehurst for a year and bring in someone like Matt Leinart or Tarvaris Jackson to push him as the team’s backup. Whitehurst is given a year to earn the job long term. If he succeeds, great, you’ve got your guy.
If not, the Seahawks will be in good draft position to select the quarterback of the future in 2012, when another group of talented quarterbacks is set to come out, including Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley of USC, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, Arizona’s Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, all projected to go in the first round.
Here are a couple plays that show Whitehurst at his best. When Whitehurst is decisive in his reads and throws the ball with authority, particularly down the field, he’s effective.
First of all, as we found out in preseason play, Whitehurst has good touch and accuracy throwing the deep ball.
Here, he delivers a long completion down the sideline to Golden Tate against Oakland in a preseason game.
And here’s another nice deep ball against Cover 2 vs. Oakland to Ben Obomanu.
Whitehurst also plays with decent poise at times. An example of that is showing the patience to let Mike Williams clear the defense and putting enough air on the ball in this touchdown pass against St. Louis.
Whitehurst’s ability to move and throw on the run is important. Particularly with the Seahawks trying to establish a run-oriented offense, keeping the backside defensive end honest with the ability to bootleg and play-action pass is critical. And as you watch in the video below in this quick pass to Deon Butler off play action against the Raiders in the preseason, Whitehurst can do that.
Now, here are a couple plays where Whitehurst is not so good.
Whitehurst actually had a good drive going in spot duty against Arizona down in the desert when Hasselbeck went out with a wrist injury at the end of the first half. But he makes a boneheaded decision in trying to go to the backside of the defense after a pump fake on the front side to Deon Butler, resulting in an interception by Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie. Whitehurst should have just airmailed the ball into the stands here.
In this second clip against the New York Giants in his first career start, Whitehurst stared down Mike Williams the whole way on this comeback route, and to make matters worse, he delivered the ball late and behind Williams, resulting in an easy interception for Corey Webster.
I think both of these plays are a result of Whitehurst playing tentatively and not with enough anticipation – playing not to lose instead of playing to win. That’s what happens when you have not taken a lot of regular-season snaps.
It’s a fine line that Whitehurst, Hasselbeck and other quarterbacks for Seattle have to walk with Carroll, because he’d rather have the offense go three-and-out and punt than deliver a game-changing interception. But what coach wouldn’t want that?
However, Whitehurst showed against St. Louis that he could walk that fine line and be successful, something that Carroll and Schneider have used as an example of why they believe he could be a starter for Seattle in 2011. The question for Seattle is if that small sample size is enough for Carroll to entrust an entire season to see if the Clemson product is the long-term answer for Seattle at quarterback?
Carroll is looking for his quarterback to play a clean game and not give it away. His decision may be as simple as this: What quarterback will limit turnovers the best in 2011?