Bring up Charlie Whitehurst to a Seahawks fan, and you are guaranteed to get a strong reaction. That level of passion is generally reserved for clear villains (e.g., Bobby Ayala) or established heroes (e.g., Walter Jones). Whitehurst has not done enough to fit in either category. So why they controversy? Like all good stories, it starts with a compelling opening scene.
Whitehurst was a name almost no Seahawks fan knew until the rumors of his potential acquisition started to surface. Word was that Whitehurst was a player with all the physical tools to play the position that had enjoyed great mentoring under offensive guru Norv Turner in San Diego. He was headed toward free agency and the Chargers had Phillip Rivers, so they were interested in taking offers. The competition became fierce enough between the likes of Arizona and Seattle that a 3rd-string QB, who had never played a snap in a regular season game, ended up being traded for a 3rd round pick and 20 spots in the 2nd round as Seattle swapped their 2nd round pick with San Diego’s. He also got a two-year contract at a price that clearly stated he was more than a back-up. It was the first significant move of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era, and it was for a quarterback. Given Schneider’s affinity for draft choices, the trade was all the more intriguing. Some would say a 3rd round draft pick is not all that high of a price, but for a guy like Schneider, that’s like trading away the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. The general analysis was that the front office overpaid in draft choices and in contract for a player who was unproven. Hopeful fans chose to believe Carroll and Schneider saw something the experts didn’t. Expectations were raised. The first chapter in the Whitehurst saga was written.
Players like Taylor Mays, Jimmy Clausen and Rob Gronkowski were drafted between the pick the Seahawks gave up in round two and the one they gained from San Diego where they drafted Golden Tate. Players drafted after the 3rd round pick the Seahawks gave up (and before their next pick) include: Colt McCoy, Ed Dickson, Tony Moeaki, Jimmy Graham, and Mike Williams (the other one). There is no guarantee the Seahawks would have drafted any of these players had they kept their original draft choices, but they represent the type of value that can be had in the early 2nd and 3rd rounds. The Seahawks future may look completely different with a player like McCoy developing last year behind a veteran like Matt Hasselbeck.
Fans and the media were primed for an all-out quarterback controversy by the time the team reached training camp. Instead, it was clear to all that attended on a regular basis that there was no competition to be had. Hasselbeck was light years ahead of Whitehurst in accuracy, timing, and command of the offense. Some will claim that Whitehurst was never given a fair shot because Matt got so many more reps, but Whitehurst did little to earn more reps. I attended more than one day of practice where Whitehurst got almost ALL the reps because Hasselbeck sat out to rest. Whitehurst generally hurt his chances in those situations by continuing to be inaccurate despite a chance to gain a rhythm with more throws. Even so, he displayed a strong arm, and had the QB “aura” about him. He was confident, and it showed.
His first pre-season action was impressive. He threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns in just a couple of quarters. Most impressive was his long touchdown to Mike Williams where Whitehurst recognized a change in the defense and checked out of the called play into an audible that directly led to the score. That was a great sign, and bred more hope that he really had learned something all those years behind Rivers and Billy Volek in San Diego. Unfortunately, he never approached that level of play again in this remaining pre-season games. He started to show some bad QB characteristics in those games. He threw off his back foot quite a bit. His willingness to stand strong in the pocket in the face of a pass rush did not seem to be there. He would start back-peddling and make a poor throw. He stared down his primary receiver, rarely looking off the safety. Worst of all, he was habitually inaccurate. Some of these things can be overcome with time and proper coaching. Whitehurst was already many years in the league, however, and was too old to expect a team to take another 3-4 years to develop him. Hasselbeck was announced the starter to nobody’s surprise, and Whitehurst took a back seat.
The next time he appeared was in week 9 after Hasselbeck was injured in the previous game. Whitehurst got the first start of his career at home against the NY Giants. The game was destined to be a blowout loss with, or without, Hasselbeck due to a series of other injuries the team sustained against the Raiders. Whitehurst, however, looked horrible. He managed just a 44.3 QB rating and a miserable 4.9 yards/attempt. He played in a couple more games (@ARI, ATL) when Hasselbeck was either injured or embarrassingly ineffective. His QB rating in those limited chances never eclipsed 65.4. There was nothing positive to point to that could make a case that he deserved more playing time.
Whitehurst would get another chance, and this time the stakes were much higher. The Seahawks needed a win against the Rams to win the division and make the playoffs. Hasselbeck had injured himself (literally, as nobody touched while he ran in for a TD against the Bucs). Whitehurst was rushed into action against the Bucs, and again, was forgettable with a 68.3 rating and a mind-boggling 3.67 yards/attempt. He showed the heart of a kitten, checking down time after time in the face of a pass rush. His real chance came the following week when he got a full week of preparation for the Rams game. The Seahawks installed a very conservative game plan against an incredibly weak Rams offense, and Whitehurst played well enough to win. He managed a QB rating of 84.5 and did not throw an interception. His yards/attempt was still a paltry 5.33, but he did enough to win a big game and deserved some praise for it.
Whitehurst, however, got entirely too much praise for that one game. Remember that 5.33 yards/attempt? He got 61-yards on a single pass to Ruvell Martin (that was significantly under-thrown). His average on his other 35 attempts was 3.74. Folks, that is abysmal. Whitehurst deserves credit for stepping forward, but the coaches deserve more for putting together a gameplan that did not ask much of him. And the defense deserves even more credit for throttling the Rams offense, keeping them to 6 points.
Whitehurst has been in the league long enough, and has had enough chances to earn a starting role that it is now time to look elsewhere. He is not a rookie. He is not a guy who is demanding playing time with great performances in a game or on a practice field. Nobody is given a thing in the NFL. Whitehurst doesn’t deserve a chance anymore than Mike Teel or JP Losman did. He has to earn it. He has not done that. Time to move one.