Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson carries the ball during an NFL football preseason football game against the Denver Broncos, Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
RENTON, Wash. — Quarterback Russell Wilson will get a chance.
That’s how coach Pete Carroll characterized his decision to start Wilson at quarterback in Friday’s exhibition game at Kansas City.
Wilson’s opportunity is not a criticism of Matt Flynn’s performance as the starter the past two weeks, nor is it a commitment to start Wilson in any game beyond this one. This is just a chance to see if the rookie quarterback from Wisconsin can play as well against the Chiefs’ first-string defense as he has against the opponents’ substitutes the past two weeks.
“He’s carried the style of play from college level to our level in these first couple preseason games,” Carroll said, “and we are going to see what that means in game three.”
So this third exhibition game, which is universally held to be the most important of the four practice games NFL teams play every August, will become an audition. It is unconventional, it is unorthodox, and Carroll said it is entirely consistent with the equal-opportunity approach he’s tried to instill in this team.
The decision was solely about competition, he said, calling Wilson’s start on Friday “a great competitive opportunity to watch.”
And now Carroll has to wait like everyone else to see how Wilson does.
“He’s an impressive kid,” Carroll said. “An extremely impressive kid, with a tremendous background, and he has not blinked here. Not blinked for a second, and he’s worked so hard to give himself this opportunity.”
Wilson has passed for three touchdowns, leads the Seahawks in rushing and has the third-best quarterback rating among all NFL passers so far this month. But all those stats were piled up in the second half of those games when both teams were playing their substitutes. The defenses weren’t as good, but neither was the pass protection Wilson received.
Wilson doesn’t plan on changing anything, though.
“I was definitely excited about the opportunity,” Wilson said. “I don’t prepare any different, though. ... I’m mentally into it all the time; that’s the way I have to be. Obviously, my goal is to be great, I have a long way to go, but I’m just going to keep working.”
It seemed Seattle was gearing for Flynn to be the No. 1 quarterback by having him start the first two exhibition games. The decision to start Wilson came as a surprise to seemingly everyone outside of the coaching staff.
“This is not a big shock to our system that Russell is starting now,” Carroll said. “We had not decided that Matt was the starter. Maybe it looked like that, but it’s not the case.”
Carroll said the initial plan was for Wilson to start the second exhibition game, which was played in Denver last Saturday. After the opener, Carroll decided to keep Flynn the starter and give him another week with the first-unit offense.
“Totally a gut feeling,” Carroll said.
Flynn was 6-for-13 passing last week in Denver, and in the four quarters he has played this month, he has yet to complete a pass of more than 14 yards or lead a touchdown drive.
But that’s not entirely indicative of his performance because Flynn threw what was the best pass in last Saturday’s game, only to have Terrell Owens drop what would have been a 46-yard touchdown. Another pass to Golden Tate also nearly produced a score, but Tate landed out of bounds.
So how did Flynn take the news Wilson would be starting this week?
“He took like it a real competitor,” Carroll said. “He didn’t want that news. He wanted to keep starting, and I don’t blame him. I thought he was exactly on point with the way he responded.”
This wasn’t about Flynn’s performance so much as it was giving Wilson an opportunity, and a chance to see if there’s a limit to what this rookie is ready for right now.
“One way or the other, he’s going to help us,” Carroll said. “Whether he’s starting or not, he’s going to help us. You’ve already seen why. He’s a nightmare for defensive coaches. He’s a nightmare the way he moves around. If he can do it all together in this short time that we’ve given him, then he’ll have a chance to start.”