Saturday, August 25, 2012
Where they stand: NFC West QB battles
By Mike Sando
The three-year, $19.5 million contract Matt Flynn signed in free agency signaled his status as the Seattle Seahawks' likely starting quarterback in 2012.
Coach Pete Carroll stressed from the beginning that Flynn would have to compete for the job. At the time, that seemed mostly like a respectful nod toward incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, who had played through a torn pectoral muscle during the 2011 season.
Russell Wilson's arrival as a third-round draft choice added another dimension to the competition, but rookies tend to struggle if given enough opportunities. Wilson isn't your typical rookie, however. He has only gotten better as the team has given him more chances. At this point, it'll be tough for Carroll and the Seahawks to keep him out of their lineup against Arizona in Week 1.
The 43 snaps Wilson played Friday night at Kansas City were the most in a 2012 preseason game for a potential NFC West starter.
Wilson did not let the opportunity slip past. Seattle scored three field goals and three touchdowns on Wilson's first six possessions during a 44-14 victory at Kansas City. A seventh drive produced a 40-yard completion and a missed field-goal attempt.
"Honestly, this is what we had hoped to see," Carroll told reporters after the game. "He was very comfortable in the pocket. He had good protection for the most part. He took off when he needed to. He did that really well. He had run so much in the first two games, and I wanted to see if he would hold in there and read it out and he did exactly that. It was a nice job by him."
Wilson has now taken 112 preseason snaps, most for an NFC West quarterback. Below, I've updated an earlier chart showing how many snaps potential NFC West starters have taken during the preseason to this point.
St. Louis' Sam Bradford and San Francisco's Alex Smith are running unopposed. Neither player's team has played its third preseason game yet.
Arizona has already played four thanks to its participation in the Hall of Fame game. Even so, Cardinals quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have combined to play only four more snaps than Wilson to this point.
Arizona went into its fourth preseason game expecting to take a longer look at Skelton. Kolb wound up playing the most. His 32 snaps against Tennessee doubled his snap count from the previous three games combined.
My general impression was that Kolb helped his cause against the Titans despite throwing two interceptions, one of which Tennessee returned for a touchdown. Kolb showed some resiliency in the game. He played freely and effectively while leading a touchdown drive in the two-minute offense. There were enough mistakes to amplify questions about his worthiness for the starting role, but Skelton wasn't any better. For the first time this summer, Kolb emerged with a foundation from which to build.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, like Seattle's Carroll, has said he won't announce a quarterback decision right away. Whisenhunt indicated he would probably use the next few practices to help make a decision. Carroll was less specific during postgame remarks Friday night. Might he wait til after the fourth exhibition game before announcing whether Wilson or Flynn would win the job?
Flynn's absence from Seattle's game against the Chiefs threw another twist into the competition. Flynn had missed practice with a sore elbow earlier in the week. He planned to play against the Chiefs, Carroll said, but the elbow flared up on game day.
Quarterbacks do take many reps during training camps, but this injury comes as a surprise under the circumstances. The NFL's labor agreement has significantly limited the number of snaps available to players over the course of a camp. An NFC West assistant coach I spoke with during camp estimated a roughly 50 percent reduction in the number of camp throws.
"Overall, if you counted them all the way through camp, maybe a little more than half, 60 percent," Cardinals quarterbacks coach John McNulty said last week. "In those double sessions, you ran those long seven-on-seven periods. You might be at half the throws realistically."
How teams allocate those snaps varies from camp to camp. Seattle put added focus on getting reps for Flynn and Wilson at the expense of its other quarterbacks. Flynn had worked only as a backup in the past. This was his first camp as a potential NFL starter.
Wilson was going to be the featured quarterback Friday night whether or not Flynn was available. The team concludes its preseason schedule at home against Oakland on Thursday night. Arizona is home against Denver on the same night. Quarterbacks will be the focus, as usual.