Most of the NFL still does not realize what kind of transformation took place with Russell Wilson over the second half of last season. He embraced the short, rhythm passing game for the first time in his career, and his production took off to historic levels. Take those final eight games and stretch that pace across a full season, and you end up with 4,300 yards passing, 50 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 124 passer rating. That is a big part of why many people in and around the Seahawks think this could be an MVP year for Wilson. How can it be, then, that his biggest step forward may come off the field? Matt Hasselbeck explained recently.
Hasselbeck joined Brock Huard, Mike Salk, and Danny O’Neil on the air last week to discuss the upcoming season for the Seahawks. The group discussed a number of things, but perhaps the most insightful moment came when Huard asked how Wilson could take the next step in becoming the face of the franchise with Marshawn Lynch retiring.
“Russell’s a guy where the biggest thing where he can grow is humility. He had a great season last year. Everyone is going to be quick to blame the offensive line. So if they are shaky, if they have issues and he gets sacked a lot, people are going to say ‘This team is awesome, but the offensive line is terrible.’ That’s going to be a storyline repeated by lazy national media who don’t understand the nuances of how this team plays. The opportunity for [Russell] is to show some humility. Get the ball out quicker. Don’t ask them to block for as long.” – Matt Hasselbeck on 710 ESPN
What Hasselbeck stopped short of saying was that Wilson needs to take a bullet for his linemen in press interviews. That was clearly what he was getting at, but seemed to be trying to avoid an assault on Wilson’s character.
Humility is a powerful word to use when describing where someone needs to grow. The implication is that the person is arrogant and possibly selfish. That is certainly far from Wilson’s public persona, but Hasselbeck may be tapping into something that has kept Wilson from ascending to a uniformly respected leader in that locker room.
When the bullets were flying last season, and Wilson was getting sacked what seemed like every other drop back, I do not recall hearing him come out and take responsibility for it in the media. That may be a bit of selective memory, but I listen pretty closely to all those press conferences. If he was saying it, the message was muted.
UPDATE: Some readers have provided evidence that the above paragraph is not accurate. You can find that information here.
It is easy to imagine Hasselbeck in similar situations placing the blame squarely on his shoulders and shielding his linemen and teammates. That was part of what made him such a beloved leader on every team he played on during his time in the NFL.
There is nothing keeping Wilson from doing the exact same thing. He is young, and it is understandable that it might not have been natural to take the heat when you are trying to establish yourself in the league. Now, he has the big contract and the big production. This is the perfect time for him absorb every punch from fans and the media so that his young line can gain confidence and feel that much more dedicated to the job of protecting him.
Specifically, it is time to hear Wilson say things like, “That sack was on me. I should have gotten rid of the ball sooner.” Or, “I missed a protection. That was not on my guys up front. That was on me.” The reasons do not even need to be true. They just need to deflect blame away from his line and toward him.
It is a very subtle point, and it is no surprise that it took someone like Hasselbeck to bring it up. His greatest strength through his career may have been his leadership and locker room presence. He protected his guys off the field and his guys protected him on it.
Huard talked later about the experience of seeing Peyton Manning move his locker into the middle of his offensive line back in Indianapolis. It sounded a bit contrived, but the symbolism was clear. Wilson has some ground to cover to become “one of the guys” with his line. You can be pretty sure none of them are getting married to celebrities or getting married in England.
He is allowed to be different. He does not need to watch Duck Dynasty and love hunting like seemingly every offensive linemen does. He needs their respect, and must give them his. The result should lead to even greater accomplishments for him and his team.