Subplot stars Seahawks' understudies

Surely, when the new Seahawks front office made an early move to trade for Charlie Whitehurst in March, the intent was for incumbent starter Matt Hasselbeck to be aware that there would be competition for his job.

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That kind of challenge is healthy for anybody trying to keep a roster spot. Hasselbeck responded as we might expect of him. He dived into learning the new offensive scheme, got himself in top physical condition and quickly affirmed to the new staff that he is an unwavering team leader.

But a new wrinkle in the quarterback situation developed in May when the Seahawks brought in J.P. Losman for a free-agent tryout. Although Losman had been out of the league – playing in the UFL for the Las Vegas Locomotives – he wowed the staff with his workout.

And now it’s Whitehurst who needs to be aware of somebody in the rear-view mirror.

The reason to focus on the outcome of a training camp competition for the backup quarterback spot is obvious. Hasselbeck is almost 35 and has missed 11 games the past two seasons.

One more tweaked oblique or a Patrick Willis helmet to Hasselbeck’s ribs, and coach Pete Carroll is going to have to call somebody’s number to replace him.

It makes the comparative development of Whitehurst and Losman one of the more interesting competitions in this preseason. At the very least, this is definitely not a situation, as in the past around here, where the backup is an entrenched veteran, and the No. 3 guy just a youthful project.

And the issue is too valuable to the success of the season to just assume that the job will be Whitehurst’s because of the trade and contract investment in him.

Both competitors have had their moments in camp so far, and it’s too early to come away with anything but superficial assessments.

Whitehurst is more nimble than one might expect, given his height. And he has a decent enough presence in the pocket. But his pure passing and arm strength do not appear to be the equal of Losman’s.

Two plays in recent team drills seem fair comparisons. On one deep pass, receiver Golden Tate got behind cornerback Josh Wilson. Whitehurst put too much air under the ball, and as it finally nosed downward, Wilson had time to recover and deflect the pass.

On the other side, Losman saw Deon Butler streaking up the sideline past his coverage. With a lower trajectory and more velocity, Losman’s pass was out in front of Butler where he could run it down. Butler didn’t make a great adjustment to it, though, and it fell incomplete. But not because the pass wasn’t there.

Whitehurst looked very competent in a two-minute drill on Tuesday. Losman countered with continued zip on his ball, including one sideline completion of an “out” route that was absolutely humming as it reached the receiver. Those are the kind of passes that stand as a litmus test for whether the guy has an “NFL” arm.

In support of Whitehurst, it is good to remember what Hasselbeck looked like when he showed up from Green Bay, having played rarely as Brett Favre’s backup. His first training camp was nothing more than mediocre.

Whitehurst has been in the league four previous seasons and not thrown a pass in a game. But he’s been learning how to play quarterback under coach Norv Turner, who knows a thing or two. One former NFL quarterback told me that while you might consider Whitehurst a “physical rookie,” he’s a four-year “mental vet.”

Losman had started 33 NFL games before injuries and other forces caused his fortunes to fall. But he’s still just 29 (only two years older than Whitehurst), and he still has that first-round passing arm.

The Seahawks’ best chance to recover from their two-season slump is for Hasselbeck to stay healthy and effective, which would make the QB depth-chart positioning insignificant.

But in this preseason, at least, sorting though the Whitehurst/Losman issue will provide a subplot that could become extremely important at some point later in the season.