Before the start of the season, the Seattle Seahawks voted quarterback Russell Wilson as one of their three team captains.
“Just a blessing,’’ Wilson, 24, said earlier this week in a teleconference call with St. Louis reporters. “It’s one of those things that happen when you come to work every day and put the hard work in. We have so many leaders on this football team, it’s unbelievable. There are so many guys that are so dedicated from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side of the ball to special teams. It’s just an honor to be on this team.’’
Not nearly as hyped up as some of the guys drafted ahead of him in 2012 — Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill and Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden were the quarterbacks who went in the first round that year — Wilson, chosen by Seattle with the 75th overall pick in the third round, has been as dynamic and productive as any of them.
As a rookie last year, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 record for most touchdown passes by a rookie (26) while completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards. He also ran for 489 yards, averaging 5.2 a carry, with four rushing touchdowns.
This year, helping the 6-1 Seahawks to their best start in franchise history, he has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing 58 times for 323 yards, an average of 5.6 a carry.
“He’s no better athletically (this year) because he’s a terrific athlete,’’ Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “I don’t think he’s better throwing the football or any of those things.... It’s just his command of what we’re asking of him. He’s just more comfortable. This is a kid that really can utilize a deeper understanding of what we’re doing because he can act on it.
“I think, probably as much as anything, he’s helping other guys play better around him.’’
After just 23 pro starts, Wilson has become a leader for one of the premier teams in the NFL. And he arrived there the old-fashioned way _ through hard work and preparation.
“I have a little bit more poise in big situations, I believe, just from experience,’’ Wilson said. “The speed of the game has slowed down a good amount for me and I’m just focusing on doing what I need to do to help our football team win.’’
Wilson and the Seahawks are obviously aware of the season-ending knee injury suffered by the Rams’ Sam Bradford, but the second-year quarterback insists that won’t change his squad’s approach to Monday night’s game with the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
“Our mentality is to go 1-0 every week,’’ he said. “It’s Monday Night Football. It’s a huge NFC West game against a very good, well-coached football team in a tough environment. We know what (the Rams) have to bring and offer, especially on the defensive side. We’re going to have to bring our A+ game.’’
Wilson began his college career at North Carolina State, where he also starred in baseball. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and played professional baseball in the summers of 2010 and 2011.
Wilson’s desire to play both sports ultimately led to an early departure from N.C. State, where he threw for 8,545 yards with 76 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in three seasons. Largely because his baseball commitments kept him from taking part in offseason football workouts, Wilson, an All-ACC quarterback, was released by the Wolfpack and eventually signed to complete his college football career at Wisconsin.
Just weeks after joining the Badgers, Wilson was elected team captain and went on to set an NCAA record for quarterback passer rating (191.8) by completing 225 of 309 passes (72.8 percent) for 3,175 yards with 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his senior campaign with the Big Ten champions.
But despite the athletic ability and production over 50 starts in college, Wilson’s draft prospects were limited somewhat because he stands 5 feet 11 inches.
“He’s 5-foot-11, and guys didn’t think he could play for that reason alone,” Carroll said during the offseason. “They weren’t willing to take the chance on a guy and we were very, very fortunate to get him. I think that will bear itself out in the years to come, what a great pick it was.’’
Seattle took a chance in the third round and Wilson paid early dividends. He beat out highly touted — and highly paid — free agent Matt Flynn for the starting job in Seattle in camp last year and led the 11-5 Seahawks to a playoff win at Washington before dropping a 30-28 heartbreaker in Atlanta in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Wilson is not perfect — he has lost eight fumbles already this year after just six as a rookie — but he is a player the Rams must account for.
“He’s a dual threat; he can run the ball ... the zone option stuff and then getting the corner with bootlegs and his ability to scramble off drop-back passes,’’ Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton said following Friday’s practice. “They don’t throw the ball a ton, but he will improvise and make plays with his feet in the pass game.
“We have to have a balanced rush lane against him at all times. He will step up in the pocket and try to lose you that way. Then sometimes he will try to abort the rush and try to come out on one side and try to get on the edge. We have to be very disciplined in our pass rush lane and we have to be very disciplined in our run game also because he will pull the ball and keep it on designed runs.’’