Poised and confident, Russell Wilson is ready for the Super Bowl
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Russell Wilson's 37th NFL game will be the Super Bowl, but when the game begins, Wilson will have an advantage: He has already watched it.
"I visualize sequences," he said Thursday. "I visualize certain plays. I visualize red zone. I visualize the game being played out in my head. I even visualize myself going to the line and making checks ... I visualize the stadium ..."
Sometimes he takes the visualization to extremes. This week, Wilson was talking to his roommate, running back Robert Turbin, about what he called "the moment." As Wilson says: "You do the national anthem, and you are (standing) there and you've got the patch on your chest, and you think about everything you have done individually to this point to get to the Super Bowl, and all of a sudden the ball is kicked off and you've got those flashing lights. And then you really realize that you're here. That's a great feeling."
Many NFL players would react to a speech like that from their roommate by nodding uncomfortably and saying "Uh, that's great. Pass the Doritos." But this is Wilson. He has a purity of purpose that is disarming. He answers questions patiently and speaks earnestly. He just gives you a sense that he believes, without trying too hard to prove it. This helps explain why a man who was considered a reach in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft could win Super Bowl MVP fewer than two years later.
A few years from now -- heck, a few days from now -- we may look back at Wilson's draft position the way we look at Tom Brady being drafted 199th in 2000. We may wonder how he lasted that long. But at the time of the draft, the Wilson pick was controversial because people thought he went too early.
He is a small quarterback in a league of rather large men. The Seahawks' general manager, John Schneider, explained the pick in an interesting way. Schneider didn't just say he liked Wilson, or that it is worth risking a third-round pick for a potential starter at the game's most important position. No, Schneider said Wilson was one of the three best players he scouted that season.
That was a bold comment. But if you watched Wilson in his lone year at Wisconsin, it made sense. Wilson was that good. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, a former Badger, saw it.
"I was just watching as a fan," Bevell said. "I couldn't believe how poised this guy was. It was like he was doing Pat And Go. Everything is storming around him, and he was just like, 'OK,' pat (the ball) and go (throw down field). It was like he was doing a warm-up drill."
The only question was whether Wilson's skills would translate in a league of bigger, stronger and faster players. A lot of teams obviously questioned that. They didn't see what Schneider saw. But their bigger mistake was that they didn't see what Wilson sees.
Teammates talk about Wilson's poise and command of the huddle. But he also has that purity of purpose after the ball is snapped. Wilson doesn't panic. He doesn't hurry or freeze. He is one of the best athletes playing quarterback in the NFL, and Bevell has designed some plays to "Get him out on the edge," where he can take advantage of open space. But most Seattle passing plays are more conventional, and when the rush comes, Wilson does not tuck the ball and run.
"When he gets out of the pocket he is still looking downfield to make plays in the passing game," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "That leaves big opportunities for us to get open. It's a little bit difficult for the receivers because at times we might be open and then he scrambles another way and we have to kind of run into coverage. Sometimes the plays don't always go as planned."
Wilson is so good at extending plays, and so creative when he does it, that Bevell gives his guys routes after their routes -- places to run when the play breaks down and Wilson scrambles.
"We have our guidelines, our rules, specific to each play, where we are in the vicinity of Russell," Baldwin says. "If he is across the field from us, we have to do a certain thing in order to get his attention and get in his line of vision. There are rules. You've gotta know where everybody else is, and you can't go to the same spot."
This is the hardest part of projecting quarterbacks. You can measure size, strength and speed. You can ask him what kind of tree he would be, whether he would rather be a cat or dog, and if he has ever been in a room with somebody who smoked a joint. But in the speed and abbreviated mayhem of every NFL play, how will the quarterback react? It is so hard to know. Most of the NFL did not see Russell Wilson coming. But Wilson always did.