Starting QBs in the NFL need to be more than just good players. They need to be solid leaders who can go from motivating and commanding frothing grown men on the field of play, to handling 360 degree questions from the media. Matt Hasselbeck is the best I’ve seen in my time as a Seahawk fan. He’s approachable as a fan, but has always clearly had the team in his corner. He’s a guy’s guy, and might even be a girl’s guy if he wasn’t follicly-challenged.
As successors to Matt have auditioned over the years, I was almost as focused on their off-field leadership capabilities as I was on their on-field performance. Seneca Wallace was never going to be the personality that Matt, Dave Krieg, Warren Moon or Jim Zorn were. Charlie Frye finished a fantastic pre-season game at SD in his first real audition, and it only took 15 seconds of interview time to realize this guy was never going to be *the* guy on a winning football team.
During the two training camp practices I attended this season, I noticed a few things about Charlie Whitehurst. First and foremost, this guy is quintessential Southern California. He comes across as a guy without a care, at least in part due to his 70s era bearded sex appeal. Multiple female Hawk supporters could be heard “noticing” Whitehurst, and this was during the stretching drills folks. There was no football ability to notice at this point. That’s okay, though. The goal is to make Hawk fans swoon, and getting a few ladies on board won’t hurt.
At first, Whitehurst comes across as a space cadet. He’s not really engaging with his teammates or coaches. He doesn’t smile much. If not for his red QB jersey and his long hair/beard combo, I’m not sure you’d have any reason to notice him at all. Matt, on the other hand, is all smiles and conversation. He is the BMOC.
Whitehurst looked largely mediocre during the first practice I saw, and was much improved the next day when he got all of Matt’s reps (maybe he got more confident after winning the HR derby the previous night). There was no difference in his demeanor. Even keel. Rolling with the flow. Waiting for the next wave.
The more I observe the guy, the less I think he’s a space cadet. Instead, I think he’s not a guy that feels he has anything to prove. This can work against him if he doesn’t rise to the occasion during a competition for playing time, but it can also work for him when he enters a hugely important first game as a Seahawk with no jitters. The big stage does not phase the guy. That’s a clear plus.
His performance was even more impressive after watching it again on DVR. No rushed throws. Solid reads, not always to the primary receiver. He very rarely locked onto one guy with his eyes. He was poised in the pocket and threw with authority and touch.
I’ll now be looking to see how his teammates respond to him. That interception he threw looked like it was his fault on first blush, but on replay I’m not so sure Mike Williams didn’t run the wrong route. Williams also appeared to be late getting his head around on a pass further into the game that hit him in the hands. Whitehurst didn’t throw up his hands or stare up into the sky. He didn’t show up his receiver. After the game, Williams made a point to tell people his TD was mostly due to Whitehurst making a pre-snap read of a blitz and adjusting his route. Is Williams always that deferential, or did he owe Whitehurst for not calling him out?
These may seem like inconsequential questions, but being a Super Bowl-level NFL starting QB requires all of these things. There are cases where a QB may be so talented on the field he can overcome off-field leadership or personality issues (Ben Roethlisberger), or so talented off-field leading his team that he can overcome on-field shortcomings (Trent Dilfer), but those are the exceptions.
Whitehurst is a looooong way from having my vote as a future starter in Seattle, but he has already proven to have the best combination of on-field talent and off-field presence we’ve seen in a backup since Matt came along.