RENTON — Amazing.
The Seahawks played an entire NFL season and learned next to nothing about the identity of their long-term quarterback.
Incumbent Tarvaris Jackson played just well enough to be taken respectfully, but not well enough to be taken home to meet the family.
In his season-closing press chat Tuesday, coach Pete Carroll answered with oral sword play what seemed like three dozen questions about about the position, each thrust met with a slightly different parry.
I walked out of the VMAC training facility thinking of Jackson like the old high school maxim that politely disses the plain girl by saying she has a great personality.
“I dont think we were ever really able to see him in the full light that we wanted to, although weve gained a lot of information,” said Carroll, well into his punctuation-free oration. “We know him well and we think a lot of what he brings to our club and were grateful that he survived the season under the circumstances and well move from here.
“Ill always look back just respecting what he did and he finally came out of it too, and got healthy.”
And by the way, who’s that good-looking new girl over there, the one without a prom date?
At least, that’s how his rambling endorsement seemed. Using both the past tense and the word “respect” sounds much like what I said after a one-and-done date.
It’s true that Carroll is always careful about denigrating any player in public, just as he is not so foolish as to disclose to the rest of the NFL the Seahawks’ agenda for the draft, free agency and trades. But this is the time of year for divining shades of meaning in the smallest of nuances, because in Seattle’s part of the NFL, the 2011 season is so over. Already, it’s all about next year.
But it’s not just the relentlessness of the calendar that compels the inquisition. It’s the fact that about a year ago, Carroll assured Seahawks fans that re-signing free agent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck “was our No. 1 priority,” and gave every indication that the Seahawks were ready to make water run uphill if that’s what it took to bring back the team’s leader and most popular player.
But things, as things always seem to do, happened. The labor lockout began in March, stretched into the summer, and after it was over, the Seahawks discovered that the 35-year-old Hasselbeck wanted more than one year on his contract.
Water, please resume your course. Hello, Tarvaris banned-in-Minnesota Jackson.
Not only that, a year earlier, Carroll assured all that Charlie Whitehurst, a third-stringer in San Diego whose mastery of the clipboard-carry was all-NFL, was worthy of acquiring in trade and investing $8 million over two years.
Six years into his NFL career, Whitehurst in 11 games has thrown 155 passes, completed about half of them and impressed no one regarding his future. Not a complete whiff, but he will no longer be at bat for the Seahawks.
Even though the Seahawks’ overhauled offensive line provided a plausible reason to abandon Hasselbeck — no Seahawks exec wanted to preside over his career funeral — and select a placeholder better than Whitehurst, it makes scrutiny of Carroll’s words regarding the quarterback position akin to parsing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
As well as Carroll and GM John Schneider have done with low-round draft picks and random free agents that would otherwise be driving UPS trucks, the QB spot has lacked similar success. Carroll even abandoned his long-cherished idea that every position is in competition when he installed Jackson as No. 1 before training camp opened.
“in this case, I felt like for us to be the most competitive, I needed to make the
statement (that Jackson was the starter) and give him the opportunity to take this thing over and go,” Carroll said. “I wanted him to feel confident. I wanted that not to be the issue because he had so much to take on in such a short order. (We wanted to) see if we could position him such that he could do a good job with it.”
How did he do? His quarterback rating was 79.2, ranked 21st in the NFL, six spots behind Hasselbeck’s 82.4. Not bad. But on third-down passing, his rating was 65.6, or 27th. barely ahead of such non-luminaries this season such as Rex Grossman and Carson Palmer.
That inability to convert throws on third down was the offense’s single biggest vulnerability, once the pass protection cured itself of paving highways to No. 7.
Carroll repeatedly made the claim Tuesday that the failure to finish drives was a problem shared by many, including himself.
“I didnt do a good enough job.” he said. “I just needed to stay with the focus. There were times (in practice) when I gave guys breaks on their legs later in the season, and didnt do the two-minute situations that we would normally do, banking on walkthrough (practice).
“I didnt handle that like I should have. I didnt do a good enough job and the
results show it.”
Maybe so. But it could also be that Jackson was still dogged by the same problem he had in Minnesota — making good, quick decisions in the pocket — and Carroll was taking the arrow for him.
Hard to know what to believe, which has been the case when it comes to Carroll and quarterbacks during his Seattle tenure. It will remain topic No. 1 during the free-agency period in March to the draft in late April.
So Tuesday was training camp for the four-month grilling ahead. Jackson’s season, gritty as it was, left too many questions, and Carroll Tuesday provided too few answers. So in the absence of the Mariners acquiring anyone who can strike a baseball harshly, consider the discussion fully enflamed.
Me? I’d keep Jackson as the starter and use the cash and draft resources elsewhere. Otherwise, you’re trusting Carroll and Schneider to know an QBupgrade when they see one, a case they’ve yet to make.
NOTES — Two assistants left the coaching staff. Luke Butkus is returning to his alma mater, Illinois, to coach the offensive line, and Jeff Ulbrich has joined former Seahawks coach Jim Mora at UCLA to coach special teams and linebackers . . . Carroll said he talked with doctors about Jackson’s recovery from a torn pectoral muscle that hampered his play, and surgery has not been ruled out. But his late-season throwing velocity was a good sign: “Barring any other information right now, it looks like he might not have to (have surgery).” . . . WR Sidney Rice, who went on injured reserve Nov. 30 after two concussions in three games, had surgery to repair a shoulder injury that kept him out of the first two games of the season. Carroll said the surgery had been planned for some time, but Rice was able to play with the damage . . . CB Richard Sherman will undergo an arthroscopic procedure on a knee. That was the only other surgery Carroll reported.