Russell Wilson wasn’t a whole lot taller than the lectern he stood behind Wednesday, fielding questions from Seattle and national media.
So when he got the inevitable question about comparisons between him and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, he addressed the obvious.
“He’s, what, 7 inches taller than me?” Wilson said of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton. “Hopefully he plays good, but not too good.”
Of course they’re different players. Newton had all the measurables as far as height, heft and arm strength. Selecting him first overall in 2011 made sense as far as the position he played and his long-term potential.
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Wilson was quite different. He was an outlier at 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds. He dabbled in professional baseball, which might have been a better fit for his body type. He transferred from N.C. State to Wisconsin when Wolfpack coaches needed a decision on whether to move on with Mike Glennon at quarterback.
He was taken 75th in the 2012 draft’s third round, somewhat a flyer on his moxie and poise. Former Panthers quarterback Chris Weinke, now director of IMG’s Florida-based football academy, said, “If he was 6-5, he’d probably be the No. 1 pick.”
No question about that now. Wilson is the quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champions that are the top seed in the NFC draw. Newton is the guy trying to win a huge game Saturday night in Seattle, having beaten the Arizona Cardinals in the wild-card round.
What makes Wilson special? Ask the guy on the Seahawks’ roster who has known him the longest.
“He can make plays any time the ball is in his hands,” said Mooresville’s J.R. Sweezy, a former N.C. State teammate now blocking for him at offensive guard. “Through his feet, through his arm, he’s a perfectly rounded quarterback.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in a conference call with Seattle media that the difference between Wilson and Newton right now is once Newton decides to run out of the pocket, he’s all in. Wilson is constantly looking for a receiver to leap free for some last-second completion that gains a first down.
Once Newton recognizes a busted play, he becomes Jim Brown. Once Wilson sees a busted play he becomes Fran Tarkenton. Brown physically devastated defenses with his power and resolve. Tarkenton pecked his way through the NFL, extending plays with his scrambling until he found a way to pass or run to the first-down marker.
Wilson said repeatedly Wednesday that his running – he had 849 yards on 118 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per rush – is a last resort, not a preferred solution.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is getting the ball out on time,” Wilson said. “And I throw the ball away a lot.”
That’s a veteran move. Trying to turn every broken play into a gain is how an NFL quarterback gets beaten, if not pummeled. The opposing secondary is waiting for that moment when you do something impatient that gets turned into an interception for a touchdown.
Likewise, exposing your body to dangerous risks is what gets you injured, and Wilson has adapted to finding his spots.
“In terms of being a risk-taker, I try to be selective. Is it fourth-down-and-3? Is it third-down-and-3? I try to keep my eyes down-field all the time. I never try to run the football.
“I try to make something happen, and if nothing is there, then salvage it. If it’s third-and-7 in the second quarter, then there is lots more to do. I always try to get down and slide. Baseball was good for that.
“It’s one of those calculated-risk type of things. … If it’s not there, get down or get out-of-bounds.”
Wilson sees Saturday night as pure entertainment between his nuance and Newton’s flamboyance:
“It’s a game you’re going to watch for sure.”