*This is an abridged version of a full-length article available through Amazon.com
In the face of fan dissention, the Seattle Seahawks are holding their ground on Tarvaris Jackson starting over Charlie Whitehurst when the regular season starts.
In an ESPN Sports Nation poll, a full two-thirds of respondents felt Whitehurst should be named the starting quarterback.
There is a reason why coaches, not fans, make player decisions.
Most every preseason a backup quarterback steps up and posts solid performances. They hype gives fans reason to believe their next great QB is about ready to burst onto the scene. The Seahawks have had a few of these passers come and go in recent years.
When fans see their beloved diamond-in-the-rough gone a season or two later they can’t understand why he is no longer with the team. “But he looked so good in preseason,” they bemoan, as Seahawks fans did with David Greene.
The same preseason that Greene was impressing fans with his accuracy, King 5 News’ blog was praising another QB prospect. “I know its preseason…but Leinart looked NFL ready.”
Preseason games are, simply, much different than the regular season.
Whitehurst has also looked like an NFL QB, whereas Jackson has been running like a mad-man scared for his life. This has led to chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie…” returning to the Field formerly known as Qwest.
Fans wanting Whitehurst to take over were wrong last season; Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck–led playoff run proved that he was the right quarterback to lead the team. Fans are equally wrong now.
Jackson hasn’t been able to show pocket presence, as there simply isn’t a pocket present. In the face of a stiff pass rush and tight coverage, Jackson has been adept at extending plays and moving the sticks with his legs. However, he hasn’t been able to overcome dropped passes and penalties for offsides and tripping…not to mention an offense experimenting with the run game at the goal line.
Starting Whitehurst in Week 3
There is a glaring issue with starting Whitehurst when the Seahawks visit the Denver Broncos Saturday night.
In a normal season, the third preseason game is the dress-rehearsal for the regular season. It is the one game where teams actually game-plan for their opponent, and the starters see the most action.
To get the offense clicking, the Seahawks need to start the QB they think will win ball games in the regular season. So far, the coaching staff believes that person is Jackson. He has significantly more NFL experience and has shown positive growth in each of his NFL seasons, a variable that will be discussed later in this article.
Oddities of the 2011 Season
The approach to preseason games may well be different in 2011, as teams didn’t have the luxury of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) or mini-camps. In addition, free agents missed the first week of training camp awaiting finalization of the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA)…also providing Whitehurst with an extra week of practice to shake off some rust.
The reduced camp time may lead coaches to play their starters longer than normal in Week 4. This would give Seattle some flexibility in their approach.
- Should Jackson struggle in Week 3, he and Whitehurst could split time with the first unit in the game against the Raiders.
- If the offense runs more smoothly with Jackson in Week 3, then the final preseason game would serve as a final tune-up for the offense prior to the regular season.
Despite the chants for “Charlie,” Whitehurst’s presence with the first team this weekend would likely be a detriment to the team’s progression. The coaches see a lot more from game scout film and during practice than fans see in a few minutes of playing time. Jackson handled the Vikings pressure fairly well, and had Golden Tate caught the two passes he dropped, it is unlikely Jackson’s performance would be under such tight scrutiny right now.
As for Whitehurst’s performances, most fans recognize the defenses he’s faced don’t compare to what has been thrown at Jackson. In part, the Vikings and Chargers both have very good talent on their starting front seven.
Fans seem to have forgotten the excuses they made for Whitehurst last season. When he was called upon to start against the New York football Giants, Whitehurst and the offense struggled…mightily!
The fans that wanted Whitehurst to replace Hasselbeck last season forgave the dreadful performance, as he hadn’t had ample opportunity to work with the first team offense.
The odd part…the same fans that made excuses for Whitehurst last November fail to offer the same consideration for Jackson now.
While he ran the offense in Minnesota, he has had little time with the starting personnel in Seattle.
Preseason is Different
The quality of the opposition is part of why preseason performances aren’t comparable. While that difference is fairly easy for fans to see, the bigger issue is a different style of play.
In the regular season, defensive fronts will run complex stunts and blitz linebackers and safeties through the openings. They scheme their way to pressure and sack the quarterback, witnessed in Seattle last year as veterans Chis Clemons and Raheem Brock had career seasons. Wrinkles are thrown into zone and man protection, disguising where the coverage is coming from.
Little of this is seen in preseason action, with the exception being the New Orleans Saints…but Seahawks fans saw first-hand just how little class that franchise brings to the playing field.
Whitehurst has looked great at times in a slower pace of the preseason, but has not been able to produce with his arm when games matter.
Jackson has had mixed results as a starter. Playing for Brad Childress left no room for error, and Jackson was well aware that a single poor performance was grounds to be benched in Minnesota. That is a tough standard to live up to in the NFL, particularly when much of a QB’s production is beyond his control.
If Jackson is going to have any level of success he needs to feel secure in his role. He needs to know he can air the ball out to Sidney Rice without fear of being benched if a ball is intercepted. But first, he needs time to throw the ball.
At one point Childress believed Jackson had that potential. But coming from the Football Championship Subdivision’s Alabama State, his learning curve in the NFL was much bigger than quarterbacks coming from schools in power conferences.
Jackson didn’t have a mentor in Minnesota until the past two seasons. While it is unreasonable to expect anything close to Brett Favre’s level of play, studying his work habits and approach to the game should have improved Jackson as a player.
Preseason is all about progressing. Jackson progressed each year in Minnesota, and needs to be given an opportunity to see if he learned anything studying under Favre the last two seasons.
Tarvaris Jackson Regular Season Stats: