Russell Wilson returns to N.C. to face Panthers

After winning starting job, Seahawks rookie wants to prove he’s up to the task Sunday

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comOctober 4, 2012 

Seahawks Rams Football

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) sets to pass during an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012 in St. Louis.(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

TOM GANNAM — AP

Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has shown the experience of a veteran this week.

Between his three seasons as N.C. State’s quarterback, the one month he spent playing baseball in Gastonia and his personal ties to the area, Wilson has been inundated with ticket requests for what will feel a bit like a homecoming game Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

Playing ticket broker is low on his priority list this week.

“There were so many tickets (requested) I told people they may have to find their own,” said Wilson, who will be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback when they face the Panthers Sunday at 4:05 p.m.

He’s learning.

Wilson estimates he’ll have at least 50 family members and friends in the stadium Sunday. However, his focus will be on continuing to grow into the job he won by acclimating in training camp, outplaying incumbent Tavaris Jackson and edging out high-priced free agent Matt Flynn to become just the sixth rookie quarterback drafted in the third round or later to start his opening game.

The Seahawks’ cross-country trip comes after a six-point loss last Sunday at St. Louis in which Wilson passed for a season-high 160 yards but threw three interceptions. The performance caused some to question whether Wilson might be replaced by Flynn this week, but Carroll remains steadfastly in Wilson’s corner.

“He’s an eyelash from having an incredible start to his career,” Carroll said.

Wilson has been proficient if not prolific. He’s completed 60 of 100 passes for 594 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating of 73.5 ranks 26th in the league and third among five rookie starting quarterbacks.

The Seahawks don’t have a dynamic offense. It’s built around running back Marshawn Lynch and the passing game ranks 32nd – last in the league. However, the defense is the third-stingiest, allowing the Seahawks to have pieced together a 2-2 record this season.

After three seasons at N.C. State and a fourth at Wisconsin where, after giving up a promising baseball career, Wilson led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl, he was one of the draft’s most intriguing players. The Panthers looked at drafting Wilson but the Seahawks chose him with the 75th pick, the general perception being he could be a solid backup.

Instead, Wilson so impressed Carroll and the Seahawks staff during the preseason when he had a 110.3 passer rating that he left Flynn on the sideline.

“In the preseason, he had so much production and made so many things happen to go along with the remarkable character and his habits and his smarts, he just won the job,” Carroll said.

“Off the bat at Arizona, we had three plays from the seven-yard line to win the game. We couldn’t get the ball thrown and caught to win. That would have been an amazing way to start. He hasn’t been anything but unique and special and so we’re excited about him.”

In the Seahawks’ offensive scheme, Wilson hasn’t been asked to throw downfield often, doing most of his work with short passes in a West Coast-themed offense. He’s worked his tight ends effectively and been able to run just enough to keep defenses honest.

Wilson didn’t let the three-interception game at St. Louis knock him back.

“There are things you want to improve on and keep fighting, keep playing. You’ve got to keep working,” Wilson said.

“It’s a process. You have to stay positive and understand there’s going to be ups and downs and understand there are going to be a lot more better days than worse days. The way you control that is with your attitude and the way you go about your business every day.”

A year ago, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was four games into his rookie season. He’s been through the learning process in which Wilson is now immersed.

“Football is still football at the end of the day. It’s still 11 on 11 but the leap from college to the pros 11 on 11 may seem like 11 on 13 on 7 on 11 at times. You have to know where your assignment is and trust your plan,” Newton said.

“In this game, it’s all about how you react. It requires no thinking at all. On Sundays, if you think, you get hit. But when you react, you put yourself in a better situation. If he’s thinking out there, it’s really not going to get done.”

Wilson said he can feel the pro game coming to him.

“The more experience you get, the slower the game gets. That way you’re just reacting all the time. I’m not thinking too much,” Wilson said.

“It’s more of getting in the flow of the game – you have to keep working at it. All the way from preseason to the place I’m at right now, I feel so much better, so much stronger. My poise and my confidence never wavers.”

After his various stops – at N.C. State then Wisconsin with baseball in the middle – Wilson said he wouldn’t change anything. It led him to Seattle and, this weekend, to Charlotte for his first game in Bank of America Stadium.

“Every morning I get to wake up and try to be great. That’s my goal, to be great one day,” Wilson said.

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