At age 27, Russell Wilson just delivered his finest season as an NFL quarterback.
He led the league in passer rating (110.1), set career highs in both completion percentage (68.1) and yards per attempt (8.3), and operated from the pocket better than he ever has. Wilson will be entering his fifth season in 2016. Now it's time for him to go to school, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
"Russell and I talked about this last night," Carroll said Monday. "I think this is really the right time to really turn his focus and broaden his awareness of what is going on in the game overall. And so he and I will spend a lot of time this offseason introducing him to the perspective of what it’s like to look at the defense from the defensive side of the ball. I want him to learn and understand what is going on schematically, rotation-wise, fits-wise even more than he knows now."
The plan will be the same for safety Earl Thomas on the other side of the ball.
"We are going to school, and it will be a tremendous offseason for those guys," Carroll said. "And they are ready for that."
The biggest positive to come from the 2015 season for the Seahawks was Wilson's continued growth. He was coming off probably the most devastating interception in Super Bowl history. His contract was one of the biggest stories of the offseason, leaguewide. And after the team started 2-4, there were questions about whether Wilson was progressing at the appropriate rate.
But down the stretch, he went on a tear, throwing 24 touchdowns against one interception in the final seven games. As Marshawn Lynch, Jimmy Graham and Thomas Rawls went down with injuries, Wilson continued to perform, leading the team to a 10-6 record.
Coaches and players don't like to talk about ceilings, but the projection of what Wilson can become is greater now than it was a year ago. That's because he just posted the highest passer rating on throws from the pocket of any quarterback in the past three years. Wilson was already impressive after his first three seasons, but now he's even more difficult to defend.
"Couldn’t be more excited about it, really," Carroll said.
"We can go down the field if we have to. We can throw the ball really quick and do all kinds of stuff. Russell showed all of the things that we would hope to see in really consistent fashion this year."
Added Wilson, "We had an opportunity to do something really, really special, and we came up just a little bit short. It’s a little bit disappointing, but at the same time you look forward to the next opportunity."
It's tough to really tell analytically what kind of progress a quarterback is making in terms of reading defenses. But one area where Wilson improved this season was against the blitz. In the final seven games, his 137.0 passer rating against five rushers or more was tops in the league.
Now the goal will be to get even better for a longer period of time. Again, the goal is to become as difficult as possible to defend.
"I think the first step is the knowledge," Wilson said Monday. "You want to continue to grow intellectually and master that part of it. Continue to work on that craft. I think that when you really mentally grasp the game of football, the game really, really slows down. And that’s what was able to happen this year especially."
Added Carroll, "There’s a difference in looking at it for what the offense needs to know and from what the defense is doing. I want them to understand the other side in even greater depth. ... You can only take in so much. We wouldn’t want to water down the process by trying to do too much, but I think it’s time now."
Looking at the teams who were true contenders this season, it's clear there are haves and have-nots when it comes to their quarterbacks.
With Wilson continuing to grow, the Seahawks look like they should be able to compete for Super Bowls for years to come.
"We’re still young. We’re still really, really young," Wilson said. "That’s a scary thing."