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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

Wiederer: Note to NFL scouts: Wilson is NOT too short to play QB

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • November 3, 2012 - 6:05 PM

By the time Vikings quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson began working with Russell Wilson, the book on the kid was voluminous and well-known. You could have filled a box of three-ring binders with the praise.

Strong arm. Accurate. Fundamentally sound.

Wilson was a proven winner -- 31 victories as a starter over four years at North Carolina State and Wisconsin.

He had intelligence and ambition.

He was a surgeon, posting an NCAA-best 191.8 efficiency rating in 2011 with the Badgers.

And yet, in the eyes of a lot of NFL draft analysts and scouts, the front page of Wilson's report still seemed to include just two words -- in bold, italicized, 84-point type.

"TOO SHORT."

Yep, that pesky height thing -- 5-11 in Wilson's case.

That wasn't Johnson's worry when he and the Vikings staff hooked up with Wilson in Mobile, Ala., in January.

For a week, they worked together on the North squad at the Senior Bowl. And Johnson didn't need a tape measure to come away instantly impressed by Wilson's attentiveness and aptitude.

"On top of that," Johnson said, "he had a lot of energy, a lot of confidence. He had some of that swag that you like to have in your quarterback."

Nine months later, Wilson will reconnect with the Vikings coaches on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. He is now the Seahawks starter, one of five rookie quarterbacks getting a chance to shine.

Johnson hasn't had time to keep tabs on Wilson from afar. But he is not surprised to hear about some of the early success Seattle's young gun has had.

That week in Mobile allowed Johnson to understand Wilson's wiring, how his drive fueled his intellect, which then made his athleticism that much more dangerous.

"He was the complete package, just shorter than other guys," Johnson said. "So his issue will always be whether he can create sight lines where he can see. Right now, you're seeing that on those occasions where he can't quite see, he just slides in the pocket or tucks it and extends the play and makes things happen late in the down."

Wilson isn't quite on the level of the two other rookie quarterbacks who have beaten the Vikings already -- Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III -- and in a run-based offense, he's not asked to do nearly as much. But he has abilities similar to that duo, using his mobility wisely without being overly reliant on it.

In April, Seattle coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider had no difficulty ripping up the two-word, front-page warning on Wilson. The Seahawks drafted him in Round 3.

Carroll also didn't hesitate to name Wilson his opening day starter and has seen the 23-year-old lead game-winning TD drives against Green Bay and New England and a clutch go-ahead fourth-quarter march in Detroit last weekend.

"His smarts, his athleticism, his accuracy, all those things are on the top of the charts," Carroll said.

For Johnson, the epiphany on Wilson's bright future came from the way he not only absorbed a barrage of verbose new play calls but also how he was able to project those in the huddle.

"He didn't have to be perfect with our terminology," Johnson said. "But I wanted to see him get that play and say it with confidence."

As the calls came his way, Wilson would pause and stare up. That wasn't confusion, but a filter that turned unfamiliarity into certitude.

"I can tell, with the great young quarterbacks, they hear the play with the new terminology and they look up in the sky for a moment," Johnson said. "What they're doing is envisioning it -- all of it, where everybody is supposed to be in the whole play. Russell did that. And then he'd step in the huddle and boom! He'd recite it just like that.

"And I'd go, 'That guy's going somewhere.' You could tell he was special."

Dan Wiederer • dan.wiederer@startribune.com

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