Can Charlie Whitehurst surprise the fans who wonder about him, the teammates and coaches who are counting on him, and — perhaps most importantly — himself?
The first prime-time game for the Seattle Seahawks in more than two years, and the first division-deciding game for the team since the 2007 season, will most likely be in the hands of a quarterback who has attempted 63 passes for Seattle this season. Charlie Whitehurst became a controversial figure in the Emerald City ever since Pete Carroll and John Schneider traded a third-round pick and a move in the second round to the San Diego Chargers for the right to sign him to a two-year contract in March that could yield as much as $10 million, based on incentives.
Those who have seen Whitehurst take limited snaps are of divergent opinions regarding his ability to grab those incentives. There are those convinced that the only way to see whether Whitehurst will ever be a competent NFL quarterback is to give him enough rope to fail, and just as many are convinced that theyve seen more than enough.
For Pete Carroll, theres no choice this is the path the Seahawks chose instead of drafting a quarterback early or going the established veteran route, so his first shot at a division title is up to a replacement for an injured Matt Hasselbeck. Theres a chance that Hasselbeck, who hurt his back/hip/butt (depending on who you’re talking to) in the loss to the Buccaneers last Sunday, will start but the odds seem against it.
Its all on him, Carroll said of the pressure on his new quarterback. We already talked about that. This is the big opportunity, this is the big challenge, this is the big spotlight this is all of that for him and its nothing that a player doesnt dream of having. So hes prepared as well as he could have to this point. I think he was surprised coming into the game last week it happened so fast that we didnt respond the way wed like to. And I know that hes anxious to get back out again and go. It took him awhile to get warmed up and get going last week and it was too late for us. But hes done some really good things and were going to watch him handle it, and deal with it. He knows its one of those moments.
Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said that Whitehurst, who has been getting all the first-team reps this week, is starting to reflect that experience after a rough season. Hes playing well right now, Bates said. Hes throwing the ball hard, hes moving around in the pocket. You know, the tough thing about our offense is if youre the starting quarterback you get every rep, and thats what Ive always believed. Thats what we did in Tampa, its what we did in Denver, New York and the backup quarterback doesnt really get any reps it has to be mental reps. So playing backup quarterback is tough, its a tough role.
So this week Charlie is getting the reps, so it helps. It helps getting the timing and helps understanding the game plan a little more, and just getting the confidence of where everyones going to be, and the execution, of course, is going to be sharper. So were excited for him. And at the same time Matt (Hasselbeck) is getting healthy hes moving around better every day. And itll be interesting to see what happens (around) game time.
For Whitehurst, who has only thrown the first regular-season passes of his five-year career in the 2010 season, its all about getting those key reps even quarterbacks who look bad to start (such as, for example one Matthew Hasselbeck in the distant recesses of Seahawks history) can only get better (or prove their lack of ability) with more time under center.
When you go in there, you expect to play well and play at a very high level, he said. I think theres times I have done that and times I havent. I know it takes time. This is a competitive league. But you want to be good and you want to be good now. I think I could have played better this year but Ive got another opportunity and I want to go out there and play well.
Whitehurst isnt just playing for a division title this Sunday; hes also trying to cement his status on a 2011 roster that is likely to see as much change as there has been in the 2010 campaign. Anything less than victory could very well leave unanswered questions hanging in the air all the way through a very long offseason.