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Size doesn't matter to Wilson

Posted Apr 6, 2012

From field level, NFL scouts salivate when a quarterback stands tall in the pocket, surveys the field and hooks up with his chosen target.

From the press box level, a quarterback's height isn't as obvious, but his production certainly is.

And when statisticians add up the numbers along press row, that's when 5-11 quarterback Russell Wilson always seems to stand tall.

"I truly believe that height's really not a factor," Wilson said. "You have to be able to understand the offense, know the whys of football, play with rhythm and timing and just be athletic.

"I definitely believe I'm one of the most athletic guys, without a doubt in my mind, and so I think that gives me an advantage. I have a high, quick release, which when you play with rhythm and timing, it's hard to stop."

Wilson was hard to stop last season, his only one at the University of Wisconsin, when he amassed the highest quarterback rating in the history of the Football Bowl Subdivision (191.8). He passed for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 72.8 percent of his attempts and was picked off just four times. Wilson also scored six times on the ground.

For his college career, the first three years of which he starred at North Carolina State, Wilson threw for 11,720 yards and 109 passing touchdowns with 30 interceptions in addition to 23 rushing touchdowns.

Yet for all that, some still want to focus on Wilson's other number of note – his height. The NFL hasn't been a league known for having successful quarterbacks under 6 feet: just two – Doug Flutie and Pat Haden – have started at least 10 games in a season since 1980.

But at exactly 6 feet, a quarterback the Panthers are intimately familiar with has put up numbers in recent seasons that rival Wilson's college production.

"There aren't too many 5-11, 6-foot quarterbacks, but Drew Brees, for example, is a guy I truly admire," Wilson said. "He's a great community guy and a guy that's obviously tremendous on the football field and has broken a lot of records.

"Right at 6-foot, he's very, very athletic, has a tremendous arm, and delivers the ball with obviously great accuracy. That's what I'm striving for, to be one of the best one day."

It will be interesting to see whether Wilson is selected higher in the NFL Draft than he was in the Major League Baseball draft. The Colorado Rockies picked him in the fourth round – 140th overall – in 2010.

He played two seasons in the minor leagues at second base, batting .229.

"Obviously you have so much failure in baseball that you have to learn to focus on one thing at a time," Wilson said. "When you're playing second base or you're hitting, you're one pitch at a time, one play at a time, and it's the exact same thing playing the quarterback position.

"You have to have amnesia, and that's something I'm really good at, no matter how good I'm doing or how bad I'm doing. I have to focus on one play and put my team in the best situation possible. I try to show tremendous poise on the football field and on the sideline to my teammates so they can feed off my leadership."

From the perspective of N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien, Wilson didn't decide to focus on one sport quickly enough. When Wilson elected to play baseball last spring at the expense of spring football practice, O'Brien decided to move on, and Wilson surfaced soon after at Wisconsin.

There, he again showed his ability to make plays but also his ability to lead. Wilson was named a team captain less than two months after his arrival and then led his new teammates to the Rose Bowl.

Wilson's height may be a tangible truth, but it's hard to measure the enormity of intangibles he offers.

"I got to Wisconsin on July 1, and my goal was to learn the whole entire playbook – NFL-style playbook – by July 21. I gave myself three weeks," Wilson said. "I was able to do that, and I think that's a plus to me and any NFL team, my ability to learn so quickly.

"And the fact that I also went there and the guys voted me captain, something I wasn't expecting at all, showed that they really trusted me. I was the first one there and the last one to leave and gave great attention to detail. The guys really fed off that."