With starter Matt Hasselbeck ruled out because of a concussion, backup QB Charlie Whitehurst will make his inaugural regular-season start when the Seahawks host the Giants on Sunday.
Charlie Whitehurst knew this day was coming.
In fact, the Seahawks’ backup quarterback sensed after Sunday’s loss to the Raiders in Oakland that he might be making the first regular-season start of his 4½-season NFL career in this week’s game against the New York Giants at Qwest Field.
“You expect to play every week and this week I expected to start maybe more than in weeks past for sure,” Whitehurst said Thursday, shortly after coach Pete Carroll announced that starter Matt Hasselbeck would not play this week because of the concussion he got late in the game against the Raiders – when Hasselbeck was sacked a career-high eight times.
“So I’ve been preparing since after the game to start this game and I’ll be ready to go.”
Carroll doesn’t normally talk to reporters on Thursday. But this was not a normal Thursday.
“I’m here to make an announcement that we’re going to hold Matt Hasselbeck out this week. He needs another week to get right,” Carroll said. “He’s gone through all the testing and all. We need to do this to protect him and take care of him.
“Charlie is going to start and I’m excited for Charlie to get his chance. He’s come here to play and he’s looking forward to it.”
The news that Hasselbeck wouldn’t be able to play came as somewhat of a surprise, because Carroll said on Monday and Wednesday that he expected Hasselbeck to be ready by Sunday – if not Thursday.
“It’s a little more serious than I thought,” Carroll said. “I visited with Matt after the game and I didn’t realize there was anything going on.”
That didn’t happen until Monday when, Carroll said, “There was some symptoms and stuff like that and then we took it very seriously.
“I’m surprised a little bit,” he added, “but it’s real.”
So is the fact that Whitehurst will start – something he never did in four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, when he didn’t even throw a pass in a regular-season game. It didn’t happen last week, either, after Whitehurst took over for Hasselbeck for the final possession against the Raiders and handed off three times.
That is about to change, and against a Giants’ defense that ranks second in the league and has knocked five quarterbacks out of games during the team’s 5-2 start.
“There’s challenges every week – no matter who you play, who’s in there,” Whitehurst said. “We’re confident that we can go out with the group that we have and execute and win. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
If Whitehurst is nervous, it’s difficult to tell while talking with him – or watching him practice the past two days as the starter.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It does kind of sneak up on you, but luckily I’ve been preparing like this for not just this year but in years past. So I feel like I’m ready to go out there and do well.”
So do his coaches. That’s why the Seahawks made the move in March to acquire Whitehurst in a trade with the Chargers.
“It’s an opportunity for Charlie,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “Charlie has just had to wait his time. Being a backup quarterback is a tough position because it’s more mental. You’re not physically getting the plays in practice.
“So during the course of a game if something happens you’ve got to step up and play like you’ve been practicing for weeks.”
Whitehurst’s last extended stints came in the preseason, when he led the NFL with 635 passing yards by completing 46 of 90 passes. He threw four touchdown passes, but also four interceptions. In the summer opener against the Tennessee Titans, Whitehurst completed 14 of 22 for 214 yards and two touchdowns. The following week, in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, he was nine of 20 for 73 yards with another touchdown but also two interceptions. In a Week 3 loss to the Vikings in the Metrodome, Whitehurst was 12 of 26 for 138 yards and an interception. In the preseason finale against the Raiders in Oakland, he was 11 of 22 for 210 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve talked to Charlie since the first day he got here that he’s come here to play football and nothing else,” Carroll said. “He’s not coming here to be a backup or do anything else other than make himself a spot.
“He has done a fantastic job up until this point. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. And we’re really excited to see him play now.”
Even if it comes at the expense of Hasselbeck, the unquestioned leader of the Seahawks’ offense and someone Whitehurst has become friends with in their eight months together.
“Matt’s going to be fine and he’ll be back,” Whitehurst said. “But this week, I’m going in there, like I said, and try to play well and get moving in the right direction.”
The move with Hasselbeck isn’t just precautionary, it’s necessary because he has not been cleared to practice – let alone play.
“This is in a day and age when so much is on everyone’s mind about taking care of guys’ concussions,” Carroll said. “We’re obviously going to do the very right thing here and take care of Matt and hope that he’ll be well over the weekend and be ready to come back next week and get back to work.”
And how does Hasselbeck feel about the situation? “He’s OK,” Carroll said. “He understands. I think as the guys become aware of the testing and the process, he’s clear about what the signs show and all that. So we need to do this. It’s the right thing to do.”
Another thing the Seahawks will have to do is sign Zac Robinson off the practice squad before the game, so he can be the backup QB in the game.
That’s two quarterbacks fans have not seen at Qwest Field this season. Bates offered a rundown on the skills and styles of each:
On Whitehurst: “Charlie threw the ball well (in the preseason). He was able to get out of the pocket, do some keepers. I thought he had a successful preseason. He threw a couple picks that you wanted to take back. But he needs experience, and this is a good opportunity to really get in and see what he can do in a regular-season game.”
On Robinson, a rookie from Oklahoma State: “He’s another guy that played receiver at one time. He’s athletic. He threw a lot balls in that Oklahoma State system and has a good arm. So we’re ready to play him, also.”
As for Whitehurst’s approach as his first regular-season start approaches, is he nervous?
“Not yet. Not yet,” he said. “I probably will be, but I’m more anxious, excited. I’ll be nervous. That’s fine. But it happens pretty fast, I think.”
If you can call waiting 4½ seasons for this opportunity to come fast.