Seattle Seahawks  

 

Nevermind the future, Seahawks need Whitehurst here and now

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Elaine Thompson / Associated Press
Charlie Whitehurst's performance on Sunday might determine who might win the NFC West title.


When the Seattle Seahawks made the trade to acquire Charlie Whitehurst, many viewed the move as Pete Carroll nabbing the franchise's quarterback of the future.

However, an injury to Matt Hasselbeck heading into the Seahawks' NFC West title tilt with the St. Louis Rams might force the understudy on the field in the team's biggest game of the year.

Although the Seahawks paid a hefty price to land Whitehurst (the team flipped second round choices in last year's draft and shipped a third-round pick in 2011 to acquire him from the San Diego Chargers), the prospect of playing him in a game of this magnitude has to be a scary proposition for Carroll.

Whitehurst, playing in his fifth year, entered the season with no career starts under his belt, and he hadn't attempted a regular-season pass prior to his Week 9 start against the New York Giants. He has appeared in five games this season, but he still remains an unknown. In those appearances, he completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 315 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He also has rushed for a score.

In evaluating Whitehurst, it is important to note that he was regarded as a big-time talent coming out of Clemson in the 2006 draft. He earned high marks for his arm strength and velocity, but questions persisted about his accuracy and decision-making. There were also concerns about his confidence and poise despite being a productive player. To his credit, Whitehurst seemingly shook off those woes while emerging as a preseason sensation during his four seasons with the Chargers.

The regular season is vastly different, however, and Whitehurst's play has been reminiscent of his college evaluation when closely examining the tape. He has flashed immense potential. He gets the ball out of his hands quickly and appears to have a firm grasp on the playbook. He has routinely found his way to the second or third option in the route without hesitating. From a physical standpoint, his arm strength rates slightly above average and most of his passes have had zip. Whitehurst shows nifty footwork and athleticism in the pocket, and is capable of making plays on the run, too.

But there are weaknesses. He struggles with his accuracy and ball placement. He repeatedly has sailed his passes on intermediate and deep throws, and has problems putting the ball on his intended target's proper shoulder. Consequently, he's had passes intercepted on tips and overthrows, and has compiled a mediocre completion percentage. The offense has sputtered under his direction, failing to sustain drives or score points on a consistent basis.

Part of his struggles can be attributed to repeatedly entering games as a backup and being asked to execute game plans that were tailored to the strengths of Hasselbeck. The Seahawks' coaching staff has attempted to alter its script to fit Whitehurst's skills, but it is hard to make that kind of transition in the middle of the game. A full week to prepare him for a pivotal contest will help and the Seahawks should be able to craft a game plan that is better suited to Whitehurst.

Cynics certainly will point to his dismal performance against the Giants (12-23 for 113 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions) despite having a full week of preparation, but Whitehurst's extensive playing time over the second half of the season should lead to a better showing against the Rams.

There are some positives for the Seahawks to build upon when crafting a game plan for Whitehurst. He is most effective on passes inside the numbers, so the Seahawks would be wise to utilize John Carlson, Mike Williams and Brandon Stokley on inside breaking routes. Quick-rhythm throws like slants, Y- or H-stick routes and short-to-intermediate crossing routes should be featured to give Whitehurst high-percentage throws over the middle.

The Seahawks should also take advantage of his athleticism with movement passes designed to get him on the perimeter. Bootlegs and waggle passes with fakes to Marshawn Lynch will not only delay the linebackers in their drops, but it will keep Whitehurst from being a sitting duck and give him the option to run when the primary receiver isn't available.

Finally, the Seahawks must incorporate some vertical throws to keep the Rams from squatting on their routes. Ben Obomanu is an ideal candidate to get open down the field, and Whitehurst must connect on a few deep shots to help the Seahawks muster points. It is imperative for Seattle to get off to a fast start to get the 12th Man (Seattle's home crowd) involved and to increase its young quarterback's confidence.

The jury is still out on whether Whitehurst will develop into the Seahawks' franchise quarterback down the line, but he could be the one who leads them to an unlikely division title.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @buckybrooks.

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