When Seattle drafted quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft, the initial plan was to develop him. Seattle already had an incumbent starter in Tarvaris Jackson and had made a free agent splash by signing former Packer Matt Flynn to a multi-year contract. There were high hopes for Wilson, but low initial expectations.
That plan changed dramatically during training camp and the preseason. What was thought to be a preseason battle between Flynn and Jackson for the starting job was won by Wilson. Jackson was traded to Buffalo and Flynn never worked out, since becoming an NFL nomad who has been with four different teams during the 2013 calendar year.
Wilson is undersized, but has played like a giant in his first two seasons. Asked to be a game manager early on, he finished his rookie season with 26 touchdowns, just 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 100.0 while running for almost 500 yards. He hasn't gone through a sophomore slump in his second season. He has a passer rating of 101.8 this season and is in line to match or surpass all of his numbers from 2012.
Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson said that the biggest problem with Wilson is that he does so many things at a high level and belies his relative inexperience.
"He's a guy that can do it all," Robinson said. "He's elusive. He makes great throws. Those are the kind of quarterbacks you hate as a (defensive back) because you have to stay on your man for so long because he can extend plays. That said, we feel if we play our game we can pressure him and stop their offense from making big plays."
The Vikings are no stranger to Wilson. Following their dismal 2011 season, the Vikings coaching staff went to Mobile, Ala. to coach the players in the Senior Bowl. Wilson was one of them and he made an immediate impression on Leslie Frazier and the Vikings staff with his presence and his skill set.
"We had him down at the Senior Bowl and we knew what he had done at (North Carolina) State and what he had done at Wisconsin," Frazier said. "The thing that struck us and that stuck out was his leadership. We ended up naming him captain at that Senior Bowl and you saw the talent, but the way the guys kind of gravitated to him and the way he kind took charge that week, it kind of stuck out. We had some other good quarterbacks on our roster at that Senior Bowl, but that's the one thing that stuck out early on. We watched him on tape – his mobility his decision making. It's pretty impressive for a young guy to play with so much maturity at the position. He makes a lot of good decisions and really helps your team be successful."
As much as Wilson has exceeded projections, his offense is only expected to get better with the debut of Percy Harvin Sunday. Asked if he thought it would be a challenge to incorporate Harvin into the offense, Wilson said he expects the dynamic receiver to hit the ground running because he's been preparing for this game for months.
"I don't think it's too much of a challenge," Wilson said. "He understands the offense. He worked with (former Vikings offensive coordinator) Darrell Bevell before. He was here before training camp at OTAs. He's come to all the meetings. Mentally, he's into it. He's a very physically gifted guy. You look forward to getting him out there."
The problem that Wilson poses is that he has a strong, accurate arm and isn't shy about throwing the ball deep down the field and using his escapability to extend plays. He can hurt you with his arm and his legs (he has run for almost 400 yards this season in addition to more than 2,100 yards passing). He forces defenses to work hard and never quit on plays because he can make something out of nothing.
"He's a great athlete," Andrew Sendejo said. "Any time you face a quarterback like that you've got to expect to cover longer than normal as a defensive back. We'll look for help from the rush and they'll look for help from us. We'll have to work together to make plays. That's really what it comes down to."
Wilson isn't looking too far ahead or getting too cocky about the fast start to his NFL career. He is expecting bigger things and is working to get his name mentioned among the great quarterbacks in the game today.
"One of the things I pride myself on is being poised in clutch situations," Wilson said. "If you look at the great quarterbacks around the league like Tom Brady and Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, I want to be like that one day. To do that, you have to have good numbers and do great things and put your team in great situations, but it's also when those situations arise, you want your quarterback to be the calm in the storm."
The Vikings may have a slight advantage facing Wilson and Seattle's version of the read option. Coming off a game against Robert Griffin III, who is just as dangerous running the ball as throwing it, the Vikings know they must remain technically sound and not create the situations where Wilson can either run for big chunks of yardage or buy time in the pocket to throw the ball deep.
"Just like last week with RG3, we know we have to treat him like an extra runner," Everson Griffen said. "We've just got to go out and pay attention to detail, make sure you stay in your gap and, when you've got a chance to hit the guy, you've got to hit him and wrap him up. It's the same recipe. We've got to execute our calls."
Many expect Wilson to torch the Vikings defense. In the first half of last Thursday's game RG3 was having his way with the Vikings D and Seattle has been installed as a massive 14-point favorite. The Vikings will have to be on their toes to contain Wilson because, if they don't, it will be a long day.
"He's a handful," Brian Robison said. "Our biggest thing is going to stick to our keys. We have to get our hands on him and force him to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to or eat it and take sacks. He does a lot of things very well and doesn't look like a second-year player. He looks like he's been around a long time. The bottom line is that there isn't a magic formula to stopping him. We have to stick to our keys, maintain our gaps and not let him make plays. You've seen what he's capable of and we will have to come out and force the issue with him because, if you give him too much time, he can do some damage."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Wilson is Seattle's ‘calm in the storm'
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