Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll raised a lot of eyebrows last August when he named rookie quarterback Russell Wilson the starter over free agent acquisition Matt Flynn. After an up-and-down first half, Wilson caught fire. He tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdowns and led the Seahawks to the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
So how will Act Two of the Wilson era play out? The Seahawks certainly don't intend to rest on their laurels, spending big in the offseason. They signed Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Antoine Winfield to boost an already strong defense. But the one weapon that will help Wilson the most is one they traded a first-round pick for: wide receiver Percy Harvin.
When healthy, Harvin is one of the most explosive playmakers in the league. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has already shown he has a creative side, showing off some read-option and Pistol looks once Wilson got more comfortable with the offense. Harvin can excel at almost any position on the field, and he should shine with Bevell calling the plays and Wilson giving him the ball.
One of the biggest areas Harvin and Wilson could excel in is the play-action game. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks ran 35 percent of their plays out of the play-action in 2012, second-most in the league. This is all made possible by having Marshawn Lynch and a run-first offense. With Lynch and a stable of capable backups like Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, and Spencer Ware, the Seahawks are in a great position to once again utilize the play-action as a deadly weapon.
With all the pieces seemingly in place for a Super Bowl run, will Wilson suffer the dreaded "sophomore slump"? A "sophomore slump" is a nebulous concept. People can't agree on what counts as one (some still think Cam Newton had a sophomore slump even though his numbers were even better than his rookie year, for instance), and Wilson doesn't seem like the type to regress.
Danny Kelly of Field Gulls doesn't believe Wilson will have a sophomore slump and points out the stable continuity he will have with the coaching staff. He explained his thoughts in an email conversation about Wilson:
One little-discussed factor to take into consideration when debating whether or not Wilson will suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump is that this is the first offseason in three years in which Wilson has had the same playbook and coordinator as the year prior. In other words, this is the first time in three years in which we'll get to see what Wilson can do with an entire offseason of study and collaboration with the same offensive coordinator, playbook, language, and terminology.
Wilson had to come into Wisconsin his senior year, learn the entire playbook and master the intricacies therein in a matter of a few short months. Similarly, after being selected by the Seahawks in the 3rd round last year, he had to come in, learn the new playbook and all the myriad intricacies therein as well, all while taking only one-third of the reps until the third preseason game. With Wilson's well-documented and unmatched work ethic, this could be a big deal and help him get started much more quickly than in 2012.
One area worth keeping an eye on is his passing attempts. As mentioned above, the Seahawks are still dedicated to the running game, but even by those standards Wilson's attempts were low.
He averaged 24.5 passing throws last year, one of the lowest in the league, and ESPN's John Clayton doesn't think he will throw more than 26 to 28 times per game this season. That's obviously a downer for fantasy owners, but with the Seahawks' run-first mentality, it shouldn't be much of a surprise.
Harvin will help expand the playbook and Wilson will have some exciting plays out of the read-option, but don't expect the Seahawks to morph into a college offense overnight. This team still has the running game as its bread and butter.
There are still concerns about his game, of course. His infamous lack of height means that he will require creative blocking schemes to help him see passing lanes. Wilson has a good head on his shoulders and working nonstop in the offseason. He was the only one in the film room after losing to the Falcons in the playoffs, and famously studied game tape for the Pro Bowl.
Having said all that, Wilson and the Seahawks still face an uphill battle. For starters, they have to contend with the NFC West, which has quickly become the most brutal division in the league. The San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl last year and can easily make it again, while the St. Louis Rams are a dangerous sleeper team. Even the Arizona Cardinals have reasons for optimism. Seattle's six divisional games won't be easy.
Outside of the division, the Seahawks draw the NFC South and AFC South, and will be playing the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts on the road. A Week 1 road trip to the Carolina Panthers is a potential stumbling block, as the team typically doesn't play well on the East Coast. They at least get the New Orleans Saints at home, but the NFL schedule isn't too kind to Seattle.
It's going to be a struggle, and Wilson still has some doubters, but Carroll and company have put him in a great position to succeed. If he continues working as hard as the offseason fluff pieces would have us believe, he can continue silencing those doubters in 2013 and beyond.