Seahawks Insider

Offseason rewind: Can Whitehurst lead Hawks?

Post by Eric Williams on May 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm with 42 Comments »
May 24, 2011 1:32 pm
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Charlie Whitehurst against St. Louis. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

When Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll responds to a question, he doesn’t always answer it directly. So as a reporter you’re usually left parsing words – reading between the lines and looking for hints as to what his real intentions are moving forward with this team.

And I think Carroll provided a few clues as to what he might do at the quarterback position during his pre-draft press conference in April.

Asked what his ideal vision is for the quarterback of his system, Carroll had this to say:

“We’re always looking for a guy that can manage the offense, really,” says Carroll. “We’ve always said, even way back with Heisman Trophy winners (at USC), we were never structuring the offense to be carried by one guy. We always wanted to have a guy that would be very understanding of the system and of the people and the assets around him that could mix and move the football about. With that, we’ve always liked a quarterback that could move. We’ve always liked the ability to move because it fits with our running game and the style of complimentary throwing game that we like to match up with it. So the movement quarterback is – we don’t need to have a guy that’s a pure runner. We’re not talking about that.

“But a guy that has the ability to move and get out of the pocket and give us the variety of sets where we want to get that quarterback to slow down the pass rush and stuff. That’s always been part of it. That hasn’t always been what we’ve had but that’s always been something that we’ve looked for in the ideal.”

Taking care of the football was the No. 1 priority Carroll sought from his quarterback last season. And that’s why Matt Hasselbeck found himself in the doghouse at times with Carroll – particularly during the stretch of the year when he had 13 turnovers in four games. Three of the four games were losses for Seattle.

Hasselbeck talked about the conflict he had with making the conservative play versus taking a risk and trying to make a play down the field that could result in either six points or a turnover, particularly with his team behind and the offense struggling.

“I’ve got to get less frustrated during games, that’s the bottom line,” Hasselbeck said during that stretch. “Because when you get frustrated, you try to make stuff up that’s not there. You play outside yourself, and I really think that was Pete’s message to the team on Monday. ‘Hey guys, you don’t need to make the best play of your life, some highlight reel play. Just do the plays you do in practice. If every body just does what they do there, we win.’”

Some believe friction existed between former Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and Hasselbeck, and that the veteran quarterback did not fit his system, which relied somewhat on stretching the field vertically in the passing game.

That’s not accurate. Bates liked Hasselbeck because he had a good understanding of his offense, which allowed Bates to expand his playbook. And both Bates and Hasselbeck are risk takers who believe in the idea of creating big plays and keeping the defense on its heels by pushing the ball down field when the opportunity is there.

Bates breaks it down here.

“We try to find matchups where we can get one-on-one matchups, and you take advantage of that,” he said. “And we’re going to be aggressive. It’s tough in the NFL to have 15-play drives and nickel and dime. There’s so many different defensive fronts and coverages and stuff, if you have the opportunity to take a shot, you take the shot, and the good teams win. We’re still going to be aggressive. We’re going to try and convert on third-and-one, fourth-and-one, third-and-10, but whatever the best matchup is, that’s how we’re going to play it.”

While Hasselbeck possesses more playmaking ability and would allow Seattle to do more in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s scheme because of his quick thinking at the line of scrimmage, I think Carroll could be leaning toward handing over the reins to Whitehurst for a couple reasons.

First, Whitehurst will not take as many risks, can move a little better outside the pocket, and still possesses a strong enough arm to keep defenses honest with the deep ball. He’s basically the game manager that Carroll is looking for, allowing the Seahawks to become more run-oriented offensively and to play from a defensive mindset by limiting turnovers and controlling field position – something all defensive-minded head coaches want to do.

Second, the team is set to pay Whitehurst $4 million next season if he’s on the opening day roster, meaning one of the highest paid guys on the team would be sitting the bench. The Seahawks would have to hand over at least $7 million in guaranteed money for Hasselbeck to return, along with committing to him as the starter for probably the next two seasons.

The Seahawks did a nice job of creating some cap space in 2010 so they could spend in free agency this year, and I think they would like to use that money elsewhere, like bringing in offensive guard Robert Gallery from Oakland. I believe it’s also one of the reasons they did not sign defensive tackle Brandon Mebane to a multi-year deal before the lockout began in March.

And I know that some people have argued for Seattle to bring back Hasselbeck as a bridge quarterback to the future. But hey, the future is now. Both Carroll and general manager John Schneider are not fooled by this team’s 7-9 record and playoff run last year. They understand that this team still is a few years away from regularly competing for division titles and Super Bowls. That’s why they drafted two offensive linemen with the team’s first two picks. That’s why Carroll said they could not afford to draft a quarterback early this year – they’re still establishing a foundation.

So really, it makes no sense to pay a quality quarterback like Hasselbeck at least $7 million in guaranteed money to come back and play for a team that could be even worse than last season. Seattle will be relying on a young roster of developing players, and face a daunting schedule in 2011, with road games at Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, Cleveland, Dallas and Chicago, and home games against Atlanta, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, along with traditional matchups against NFC West opponents.

Finally, Schneider was groomed by Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson in Green Bay, so he’s not afraid to take risks and take the heat for an unpopular decision. He was there when they decided to trade Packer legend Brett Favre to the N.Y. Jets and go with Aaron Rodgers.

Now, by no means am I comparing Whitehurst to Rodgers. But what I am saying is that the Seahawks understand this is their opportunity to move on from Hasselbeck and begin to figure out the process of who will be the team’s quarterback of the future.

In this scenario, the team likely will pursue Kevin Kolb, and if they are unsuccessful they at least drive of the price for Arizona to make the deal. They settle in on Whitehurst for a year and bring in someone like Matt Leinart or Tarvaris Jackson to push him as the team’s backup. Whitehurst is given a year to earn the job long term. If he succeeds, great, you’ve got your guy.

If not, the Seahawks will be in good draft position to select the quarterback of the future in 2012, when another group of talented quarterbacks is set to come out, including Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley of USC, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, Arizona’s Nick Foles and Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, all projected to go in the first round.

Here are a couple plays that show Whitehurst at his best. When Whitehurst is decisive in his reads and throws the ball with authority, particularly down the field, he’s effective.

First of all, as we found out in preseason play, Whitehurst has good touch and accuracy throwing the deep ball.

Here, he delivers a long completion down the sideline to Golden Tate against Oakland in a preseason game.

And here’s another nice deep ball against Cover 2 vs. Oakland to Ben Obomanu.

Whitehurst also plays with decent poise at times. An example of that is showing the patience to let Mike Williams clear the defense and putting enough air on the ball in this touchdown pass against St. Louis.

Whitehurst’s ability to move and throw on the run is important. Particularly with the Seahawks trying to establish a run-oriented offense, keeping the backside defensive end honest with the ability to bootleg and play-action pass is critical. And as you watch in the video below in this quick pass to Deon Butler off play action against the Raiders in the preseason, Whitehurst can do that.

Now, here are a couple plays where Whitehurst is not so good.

Whitehurst actually had a good drive going in spot duty against Arizona down in the desert when Hasselbeck went out with a wrist injury at the end of the first half. But he makes a boneheaded decision in trying to go to the backside of the defense after a pump fake on the front side to Deon Butler, resulting in an interception by Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie. Whitehurst should have just airmailed the ball into the stands here.

In this second clip against the New York Giants in his first career start, Whitehurst stared down Mike Williams the whole way on this comeback route, and to make matters worse, he delivered the ball late and behind Williams, resulting in an easy interception for Corey Webster.

I think both of these plays are a result of Whitehurst playing tentatively and not with enough anticipation – playing not to lose instead of playing to win. That’s what happens when you have not taken a lot of regular-season snaps.

It’s a fine line that Whitehurst, Hasselbeck and other quarterbacks for Seattle have to walk with Carroll, because he’d rather have the offense go three-and-out and punt than deliver a game-changing interception. But what coach wouldn’t want that?

However, Whitehurst showed against St. Louis that he could walk that fine line and be successful, something that Carroll and Schneider have used as an example of why they believe he could be a starter for Seattle in 2011. The question for Seattle is if that small sample size is enough for Carroll to entrust an entire season to see if the Clemson product is the long-term answer for Seattle at quarterback?

Carroll is looking for his quarterback to play a clean game and not give it away. His decision may be as simple as this: What quarterback will limit turnovers the best in 2011?

Video, Xs and Os
Leave a comment Comments → 42
  1. Dukeshire says:

    Eric, This may be your best piece to date. Nicely done. I have to admit that as big a fan of Hass as I’ve been of his over the years, I do believe this season is the best opportunity to move on from him. Something they will eventually do regardless and as long as he’s here, he will cast a long shadow that will always raise doubt, one way or another.

    Carroll and Schneider have been pretty straightforward when they say or do something and there’s no reason for me to believe they brought CW in for any other reason than to start, at some point. I’m beginning to get used to the idea CW will be the ’11 starter.

  2. I was looking forward to seeing Matt QB the team behind a decent OL and with a complimentary run-game. It might be OK if Whitehurst could be more accurate on short to intermediate passes, but if you want to tank to get the best QB available in the 2012 draft, CW is your man.

  3. I think we will see Matt one more season,He is the best bet to come in with no camp and lead the team.His price is going up daily but I have no doubt he will take less money to play in Seattle.

  4. chuck_easton says:

    I am one to think the glass is half full here.

    The team has said they want Matt. Matt wants to come back. Now if some team decides to throw ‘crazy money’ at Matt of course he will take it. Both sides can walk away with their heads held high having said all the right things. If nobody gives Matt what he wants the door is still open here.

    Assuming Matt gets that crazy money, hey good on ya, mate and all the best. CW gets a chance to win the starting job. Another Vet comes in Via FA (hopefully not trade) to push for the job as well. May the better QB win in camp.

    Next year the team can decide if they want to draft a QB of the future or if they are comfortable with CW.

  5. Dukeshire says:

    klm – I’m not suggesting that CW is Tom Brady, but how do you (we) know starting him is tanking the season? Especially considering all we now know about Carroll and his philosophical approach to coaching.

  6. pabuwal says:

    Biggest problem with Whitehurst is he has too much Rick Mirer in him. If the first guy isn’t open, he takes off running. There is no second read with him. And he’ll misfire on an open guy more often than an NFL QB should.

    Kevin Kolb is the same way with read and recognition. I would say all QB “busts” have the read and recognition problem, because it’s not something that would be apparent when watching the physical tools of a QB.

  7. Great Analysis, Eric. I agree with Duke, definitely one of your best pieces to date.

  8. Dukeshire says:

    Working through ones progressions comes with 1) time to do so, quickly. 2) the comfort and confidence that comes with game reps. (Should he have that ability in him to do so. And there’s no or extremely limited evidence at this point to suggest he doesn’t.)

    From a talent standpoint, CW has it over Mirer tenfold.

  9. Week after week we read the practice reports about how badly Charlie Whitehurst sucked. It was kind of like the reports we heard about David Greene, who also cost a 3rd round pick, and Mike Teel (something about not being able to hit the broad side of a barn). Just because you invested something for somebody and you see that he’s terrible doesn’t mean you should want to go with him (b/c you know he’s going to be terrible). Sure, he “won” the Rams game with a couple of good throws on an early series in the game. He also had something like 61 or 81 yards passing and a turnover in the 2nd half of that game, too. And this is the guy some of us want to lead the team in ’11? If it means drafting Luck next year, then I’m all for it!

    As chuck said, the organization said that resigning Matt was priority #1. I don’t know why Carroll would say it if he didn’t mean it. After they didn’t get an agreement, Matt has since restated that he wants to remain in Seattle.

    Personally, my money is that Matt or Kolb will be our starter in ’11.

  10. Dukeshire says:

    Terrific Mike Williams interview on Brock and Salk today (aside from the fact you have to listen to those two…). But Williams offers some really good info.

  11. freedom_X says:

    I appreciate this article greatly because it tries to analyze what Pete Carroll wants from a QB. It analyzes his philosophies. That’s so much better than trying to link a QB with Carroll because he played for him (or against him) in college. That’s the laziest type of analysis possible. I guess Carroll is also looking to bring in John David Booty?

    It’s especially nauseating when Carroll’s track record clearly indicates USC loyalty has very little impact on his decision-making. Actually trying to determine how Carroll thinks is far more meaningful, and even if we disagree, the conversation is way more interesting that the tired “Carroll scouted him in junior high and loved him, so Carroll will want to bring him in.”

  12. oh god charlie whitehurst as a starting QB.

    and with the first overall pick in the 2012 nfl draft, the seattle seahawks select Player you’ve never heard of projected to go in the 7th round, WR, school you’ve never heard of.

  13. GeorgiaHawk says:

    Great article Eric. The only thing that I disagree with is that what you say about the Seahawks being three years away from competing for the division title.

    Didn’t they just win the division title in Carrolls first year?

    I don’t see anything that will keep them from not competing in the NFC west this year or in the next three years. We just don’t have teams like Green bay, Pittsburgh, or New England in the NFC west to compete with.

  14. I’m a Hasselbeck fan. I have nothing against him, but the Hawks are in a rebuilding mode. It makes no sense to pay Hasselbeck $7-8M a year when you can just go with Whitehurst. I think CW just needs playing time. His inexperience leads to mistakes, but that’s normal for any quarterback. I remember Hasselbeck’s first season as the starter. I was saying the same thing about him. Hasselbeck couldn’t even make the simple throws which is what you see with CW at times. Some of these fans need to wake up and realize that the Hawks were 7-9! 7-9! That was with a soft schedule. Good luck this year with a division winner’s schedule.

  15. Palerydr says:

    Props to Eric for an excellent piece.

    Whitehurst as a starter… I guess but I do have reservations due to all the negative press I saw on his inability to practice well. Can he be the game manager PC is looking for? If so do you draft a QB in the first next year anyway? I’ve pointed out a few times no matter how much we improve we still have a very difficult schedule next year so I really don’t expect much from the team next year.

  16. Palerydr says:

    If we were to be stuck with the final 8 rule in a new CBA I believe we would be happy to see Matt sign a deal with someone else because then we could go out and sign Davin Joseph or possibly Cullen Jenkins though he is an inj risk.

  17. GeorgiaHawk says:

    Great teams do not rebuild, they restock. We can win this division being just as good as we were last year. So why not bring Hasselbeck back for another 1-3 years.

    All those that don’t think that Hasselbeck is not our best option has not convinced me that there is a better one.

  18. I agree with those that say this was a great breakdown by Eric.

  19. williambryan says:

    Awesome Eric.
    I am a big proponent of having CW start this year and moving on from Hass. It just makes so much sense. This team is young and getting younger. Hass is old and getting older. At some point he will have to go one way or another.

    Some of you may not be convinced that CW is a better option but I argue that you can’t convince me he isn’t the better option either. I have a pretty dang good idea what Hasselbecks season will look like as the starter and I dont want that. I am excited to see what CW can do with a full year as a starter and I hope we get to find that out this year.

  20. GeorgiaHawk says:

    On second thought, perhaps Hasselbeck deservers better than The Seahawks, Rebuilding the O-line, and having at best average receivers.
    Maybe it is best that he moves on so we can be in the hunt for Luck.
    What a sad year this is going to be!

  21. Seahawkgo says:

    Nice article. CW is the best choice for Seahawks 2011 season

  22. JMSeaTown says:

    Great read.. this honestly got me on the ‘let’s roll w/ CW this year at $4 mil/yr” bandwagon, and swoop Gallery in the process. I’ve always been a fan of a more mobile qb. and hasselbeck.. well… he’s not mobile and goes down the second a hand touches him. Good luck CW, I hope you are our diamond in the rough.. if not, then thanks for the top 5 pick in 2012 :)

  23. “Can Whitehurst lead Hawks?”


  24. The ONLY reason I can see going with CW is to position ourselves for the 2012 #1 pick.

  25. LaCroix says:

    Thanks, Eric. I’m glad someone finally has the balls to say something objective about the QB situation and not just dismis CW. As I keep saying, they guy has only played in a few games – let him play and let’s see how he does before we toss him under the bus.

  26. So, a couple of good throws in preseason huh, can CW lead the Hawks, no. Jackson or Leinart backing him up, thats just scary. Why can’t we be in the hunt to win the division this year? The Rams are going to be out og it from the get go, their schedule is ridiculous. The niners don’t have a QB, new coach, and the lockout. Cardinals are more then just a QB away as well. Get Hass back here, Lynch pounding the ball, softening the D up, now bring Washington in the backfeild to start breaking it off with a little sprickle of Forsett with his 10 to 12 yd gains. Carlson and Morrah catching passes, Tate making some circus catches, Williams holding on to the ball, and Obie doing his thing. Hopefully our D can do a better job and the division is pretty much ours. I know it isn’t that simple, but really, with Hass it can happen, why not go for it. I’m tired of this attitude of just throw CW in and see if he has it and if not, we can get our QB next year. You play to win damn it.

  27. PHXHawk says:

    I agree completely, Eric, for what it’s worth. And I wish Matt the best wherever he goes. But I sure hope it’s not to SF or Arizona.

  28. SeahawkFan12 says:

    CW is the best option the Seattle in 2011…if they want to secure Luck in the 2012 draft.

    Sorry friends, I’m just not buying it. I’d love to, but I, like many of you, still feel the sting of a scarcity mindset when I consider what we gave up to get CW. It is the major reason most feel CW should be given the reigns and that Hasselbeck should go elsewhere. Hasselbeck is a way better option, but because of the steep price we paid to get Whitehurst, most want to get our money out of him. In the end, CW will always be a solid backup, which is really important and valuable. But to think CW can lead the Hawks and be a legit starter in the league is preposterous.

    Thank you for a great piece, Eric.

  29. Dukeshire says:

    Wait, it sounds like you’re closer to agreeing with the sentence you pasted than not. But in your paragraph you disagree with it. Where do you come out?

  30. Audible says:

    There are at least two compelling reasons to sign Hass to a 2-3 year deal:

    1. The NFC West is winnable with an experienced QB; playoff appearances take some of the sting out of rebuilding.
    2. Matt can mentor our rookie QB next year.

  31. rramstad says:

    Nice piece. I certainly agree with the overall sentiment — if Matt doesn’t come back, we can try Charlie as the starter, and I don’t feel it would be a “lost season”. I also think there’s a decent chance that the guy from SF (Nate Davis?) might get resigned, obviously also some other free agents out there, both roster fodder and borderline veterans. It’ll be OK, especially if we get the running game going, and can get Carlson to start catching the ball.

  32. GeorgiaHawk says:

    The Seahawks are going to need both Hasselbeck and Whitehurst this year to win the NFC west again.
    A good qb class in 2012 is where Carroll will find his future qb.

    And I don’t think Carroll wants to wait three years to compete in this division.

    I just wish this lockout will end so we can start adding more pieces.

  33. SeahawkFan12 says:

    Duke, I’m a Hasselbeck guy. I think that, especially with the weird lockout scenario that has left no free agent period to date, and given his leadership and experience with the team (he is practically the face of the organization), Hasselbeck is the best option for QB over the next couple of years.

    I was being slightly sarcastic in regards to CW being an answer at all. I think he is a solid backup, and has value, but believe we severely overpaid for him. In my opinion, he is not a starting QB that can lead a team to the playoffs or even a deep run to the Super Bowl. The future of the franchise lies in drafting a QB next year; (for the record I did not and still do not believe the franchise QB was in this year’s draft, and applaud JS and PC’s approach to the draft).

  34. Dukeshire says:

    SeahawkFan12 – That’s how it read and what I thought. But I was confused when you started by “not buying” the notion that they’d be in line for the #1 overall pick if they started CW. Got it now…

  35. Was Luck a redshirt, or will he stay in school instead of coming out for the ’12 draft?

  36. Dukeshire says:

    He’s a redshirt but he’ll come out. He’ll have his degree and that’s why he stayed this year (or at least that’s what he said).

  37. Great article, Eric. Thanks so much for putting in the effort during this slow offseason. You make a great case for letting Hasselbeck move on.

    That said, I don’t see any logic whatsoever in the idea of trading for Kevin Kolb. Everything good about bringing Hasselbeck back (continuity, experienced leadership) is missing from Kolb. Meanwhile, Kolb would cost us both big money plus draft choices, Hass would not.

    No to Kolb. Maybe to Hasselbeck. Charlie, you’re up.

    I think Eric just convinced me its not such a bad idea to let Hass go. Especially when I realize there is no way no how the Seahawks will win the NFC West in 2012, and then I look at all the good QBs coming out of college in next year’s draft. Spending the team’s money on other positions besides QB makes good sense at this point.

  38. SideWalk_Hawk says:

    Frankly, who cares about winning the NFC west? The hawks can’t set that as the bar to be reached, okay. I don’t think anyone should be satisfied until we’re talking about going toe to toe with teams like the giants, falcons, or pats. So, I agree with Duke, Hass will stop playing for seattle at some point. This seems as good a time as ever. It’s important to realize that qb is just one spot on the roster. An important one yes, but if the hawks want to be great; superbowl contending, not just NFC west winning then we’re going to have to take a longer view and posture to put just the right pieces in place for success.

  39. Very good and balanced article Eric, you really put in the effort on a subject that all fans are wondering about. I say thanks to Matt for his efforts over the years; but unlike some people, I am neither a Matt nor a Charlie guy; they both play for the same team, and that is what concerns me most. I think the time is right for Charlie to get a big wide opportunity to start this year, without Matt lingering over his shoulder, saying the tactful things that ex-starters always say when they have been relieved of duty. Carroll said as much in my mind when he said that they tried hard to sign Matt before the CBA expired, but could not get it done. Matt himself said it by not agreeing to terms; that he either wanted a lot more money, or a guarantee to be the starter, or both. I am not going to wring my hands over this anymore; we,ve not even heard of a whisper of interest from other teams, and although teams are not allowed to talk to players, they are allowed to talk to agents. Secrets like that are very hard to keep. I am good with it to the point where I will be disappointed if CW does OT start this year.

  40. zenmonk says:

    I love how everyone has formed such solid opinions of Whitehurst even though he really has had only one game planned for him. The fact is we dont know what we have in him. We have not seen enough of him to formulate a solid opinion. We know what we have in Hass. Lower half of the league in passer rating. 13 turnovers in 4 games. We know what were getting with Matt. I say give Whitehurst a chance, at this point what do we have to lose. As the article points out Whitehurst can be successful (at times) in the NFL. I love Matt and what he has done for the franchise but I like the scenario of giving Whitehurst a chance and if it works fine and if it doesnt next years draft is stocked with quarterbacks.

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