LAKE FOREST – At the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ rookie minicamp in mid-May, head coach Pete Carroll pulled Russell Wilson aside and delivered the news.
“You’ve got an opportunity to be the starting quarterback here,” Carroll said.
Never mind that the Seahawks had signed free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million deal less than two months earlier. Never mind that Wilson was an untested third-round draft pick from Wisconsin who stood only 5-foot-11.
Never mind any of that.
Because Wilson seized his opportunity to win the starting job and hasn’t looked back. Because Wilson believed in his ability even if others had their doubts.
“I was ready for that,” Wilson said of his chance to compete with Flynn. “I knew that it was going to take a lot of hard work and this league is a very, very tough league.”
On Sunday against the Bears, Wilson will face one of his toughest tests yet.
The Bears lead the NFL with 33 takeaways and have returned seven interceptions for touchdowns, which is two shy of the NFL record of nine that was set by the San Diego Chargers in 1961. Ten of 11 quarterbacks who have started against the Bears this season have thrown at least one interception, with the lone exception being Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers.
Enter Wilson, whom the Bears have studied on film this week at Halas Hall. He played football and baseball for three seasons at North Carolina State before transferring to Wisconsin as a senior, where he led the Badgers to an 11-3 record.
Wilson’s success has carried into his rookie season with the Seahawks. He has passed for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a 93.9 passer rating, which is more than 12 points higher than that of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs’ first observation of Wilson was complimentary.
“He's got a laser for an arm,” Briggs said.
Briggs’ second observation was less than flattering.
“He's short,” Briggs said. “Everybody knows that.”
Wilson knows it, too.
Wilson is at least 3 inches shorter than every starting quarterback entering Week 13 except for New Orleans’ Drew Brees, who is listed at 6 foot. Eight starting quarterbacks are at least a half-foot taller than Wilson.
Yet Wilson said that being a shorter quarterback never posed a problem for him.
“It hasn’t at all,” Wilson said. “It never has, and I don’t think it ever wil.
“I think it’s just because of the way I work. I know that I’m a shorter quarterback. I know that I have to stay tall. I know that I have to have a high, quick release, throw the ball on time. I know I have to understand the game and understand the defenses.
“I think that’s what helps me. I know where people are going, I know where they’re going to be, and obviously my feet help me a little bit, too, to extend the play and get away from some pressure at times.”
As Wilson has gained experience, he has limited mistakes. He has passed for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his past three starts, and his most recent interception was more than a month ago against the Detroit Lions.
But the Bears know the formula to frustrate any quarterback no matter the height. As usual, they plan to feature a persistent pass rush and an opportunistic secondary when Wilson lines up across the line of scrimmage.
“He's a smart guy,” Briggs said. “He's producing. They're getting some wins.
“But at the end of the day, he's still a rookie. He's still a rookie, and you get pressure on him, keep him in the pocket, and force him to beat us.”