You’ve heard that question posed during Seneca Wallace’s seven-year tenure with the Seattle Seahawks.
Is he a quarterback in the traditional sense of what it means to be a signal-caller in the NFL, or is he a Michael Vick clone?
Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson has heard the questions from fans, and is quick to come to the defense of his team’s current starting quarterback.
“I talk to a lot of people in public, and they’re always, ‘Oh, I don’t know about Seneca. What do you think?’ ” Burleson said. “But they don’t see what I see in practice. They don’t see him just dropping back and throwing. They see him in the game when he gets flushed out of the pocket and he has to use his feet. And because the guy is athletic, you don’t give him credit.
“He’s probably one of the most athletic guys I’ve played with. But I honestly believe because he’s so athletic that people don’t give him enough respect as a legit quarterback. He’s extremely accurate. He can do whatever you want him to do, traditionally drop back or play however you want to play. But he is a really good quarterback, and I think that’s first and foremost.”
Selected by Seattle in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, Wallace has been on a mission to prove that he’s more than an athletic reserve who can replace starter Matt Hasselbeck when he goes down with an injury.
He’s pretty much the same size as New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, but critics say he’s too small. And Wallace’s ability to make plays with his feet puts him in a peculiar position – he usually plays when Hasselbeck is injured, so the Seattle coaching staff wants to make sure he stays healthy. But by limiting his ability to take off down field, you take away one of Wallace’s best assets.
“You just got to make sure that he’s making the right decisions,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said about Wallace’s scrambling ability. “(He has to decide) on when to take off and go and when it’s safe, and when he can protect his health, and when he needs to dump it and get it to the guys that are used to taking hits.”
Wallace is 5-8 as a starter with Seattle. He did little to quell concerns about his ability to consistently lead a team with his performance against the Bears. Wallace finished 26-for-44 passing for 261 yards – all career highs – along with throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to Julius Jones.
But he also threw a head-scratching interception to Chicago linebacker Lance Briggs near Seattle’s goal line, missed badly on a couple of potential big plays down the field, and failed to lead the Seahawks to the go-ahead score on the final drive of the game.
As most would expect, Wallace tends to play better with the more starts he gets. Subbing for Hasselbeck in 2008, Wallace lost three of his first four starts, but finished 2-2 in his last four games.
In 2006, Wallace lost his first start at Kansas City, but went on to lead Seattle to victories in two of the next three contests.
Wallace said it’s a matter of slowing things down and letting the game come to him once he’s on the field.
“The biggest thing as a backup is you don’t want to go in there and hurt your team, and put your team into a bad situation,” he said. “And you just want to give your team an opportunity to win the game. And I think what I took from that game last week is just slowing my game down.
“A lot of times when I don’t play, I get anxious and all fired up when I’m out there playing. But I still have got to understand and take a step back to realize that I’m the quarterback and I’ve got to slow the game down, get the ball in the receivers’ hands and let them do what they do. Sometimes I speed the game up, and that’s what hurts me.”
Hasselbeck likely has a few years remaining if he can stay healthy, so Wallace probably will not be the regular starter for Seattle soon. The 29-year-old is signed through 2010, but thinks he can be a starter and would like an opportunity to prove he can lead a team on a regular basis.
“Every time I’m on the field, I feel like I’ve got to prove myself,” Wallace said. “And that’s just the way I am. I’m still going to keep pushing forward and improving.”
Burleson believes in Wallace’s ability.
“Is he a starter in this league in the right situation? Yeah, I think he is,” Burleson said. “I’ve talked with Seneca and I’ve honestly asked him what he envisions in his career. He’s told me he definitely would like to be a starter, but he has to embrace the situation he’s in and appreciate it, too. But he feels like, ‘I can be a starter in this league.’
“And he’s said that to me and I think a lot of people who have played with him will say the same thing.”
Count Colts coach Jim Caldwell as a believer.
“I’m not sure you can do anything consistently against Seneca,” Caldwell said. “He’s a guy who has very good speed. He’s very aware, and he throws the ball extremely well. And he can get outside of the pocket and make plays, and steps up inside sometimes to do that. And sometimes he gets outside to the edge, so he’s very tough to handle because he’s just a multi-talented guy that adds a huge dimension to the game because of the fact that he can extend plays.”
Eric D. Williams