The Seattle Seahawks are absolutely ecstatic about the potential of their new quarterback. The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, don’t seem too enamored with their old ones.
The next chapter in Russell Wilson’s enthralling story begins Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the fast-rising rookie leads the Seahawks into a season-opening battle with the Cardinals in a skirmish between NFC West rivals with unexpected starters under center.
Wilson, a third-round selection by Seattle in April’s draft who wasn’t considered a premium prospect because he’s under 5-foot, 11-inches tall, entered training camp as an extreme long shot to unseat expected No. 1 quarterback Matt Flynn after the Seahawks gave Aaron Rodgers’ former understudy in Green Bay $10 million in guaranteed money back in March. However, the athletic ex-North Carolina and Wisconsin star won the job with a string of dazzling preseason performances in which he displayed both rare playmaking ability and uncommon leadership for such a young player.
The 23-year-old amassed 536 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air while rushing for 150 yards and another score in guiding Seattle to a 4-0 exhibition record in which the Seahawks outscored the opposition by a resounding 122-44 margin.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson. “When [general manager] John [Schneider] was excited about drafting him and we got the momentum going to make that pick, this is the guy we hoped that he would be.”
When he takes the field on Sunday, Wilson will become the first rookie taken in the draft’s third round to begin a season lid-lifter since Buffalo’s Joe Ferguson in 1973.
Arizona’s John Skelton came into the summer as a bit of an underdog due to financial reasons as well, with the Cardinals having invested heavily in 2011 opening-week starter Kevin Kolb after acquiring the ex-Philadelphia Eagle in a trade shortly after last year’s lockout. But after filling in admirably for an injured Kolb for most of last season’s second half, the 2010 fifth-round choice was given the opportunity to claim the starter’s role outright in an open camp competition.
Skelton did indeed come out the winner, albeit in a case of being more of the lesser of two evils after neither he nor Kolb impressed in the preseason. Their uninspiring efforts caused Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt to hedge on making a final determination until just over a week before Sunday’s contest.
“Its kind of a weight off my shoulders in a sense because finally the speculating and the waiting are over,” Skelton said. “At the same time, there is another weight placed on them.”
Skelton showed he could handle the pressure in his fill-in duty last season, directing the Cardinals to a 5-2 record in his seven starts and engineering four fourth-quarter comebacks in four of his appearances.
One of those victories came against the Seahawks in Glendale during the 2011 finale, a 23-20 overtime triumph in which Skelton threw for 271 yards and orchestrated a 13-play, 71-yard drive to set up kicker Jay Feely’s deciding kick.
That win was one of four in extra time by the Cardinals last season and capped a 7-2 stretch to close out the campaign.
Seattle also finished 2011 on a strong note, prevailing in five of its final eight games following a 2-6 start.