Lucas at Large: Wilson wins over Seahawks, works on critics

FB_120428_Wilson_Russell.jpgBefore the Seattle Seahawks selected Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in the third round of the National Football League draft Friday night, the debate -- on whether a quarterback under 6 feet tall can be successful at the pro level -- raged between Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden on the ESPN set.

This was not the first time that Kiper, the network's draft analyst since 1984, and Gruden, the former NFL head coach, had engaged each other on the topic. But what made it unique during Friday's telecast was the fact that Wilson had given ESPN access to his viewing party in Washington, D.C.

So while Kiper and Gruden were trading verbal punches -- ESPN's Chris Berman and Todd McShay also joined the fray --Wilson was shown on camera from time to time with wife Ashton, younger sister Anna, older brother Harry, mother Tammy and some family friends.

Before the Seahawks even went on the clock in the second round with the 75th selection overall, Kiper advanced his "If only he were just a little taller'' platform. Making one concession on Wilson's listed height -- "We'll push him to 5-11'' -- he still conceded, "I know Jon you get aggravated (with me).''

Kiper then qualified Wilson as a "test case'' for all quarterbacks under 6 feet tall -- or in that 5-11 range -- that will follow him into the NFL over the next 10 years. "If he can't make it,'' said Kiper, allowing that Wilson would get a chance to be a starter, "nobody can at that particular height.''

Berman jumped in and noted that Wilson took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.

"He has a lot of 'it', though, doesn't he Jon?'' Berman posed to Gruden.

Gruden began morphing into Chucky, his alter-ego, and challenged Kiper.

"What do you want him to do?'' pleaded Gruden. "He's done it in two different offenses (at North Carolina State and Wisconsin). You probably downgraded Ray Lewis (6-1), didn't you? And Wes Welker (5-9). You probably downgraded (Darren) Sproles (5-6) and Maurice Jones-Drew (5-7).

"You discriminate against guys who aren't 6-feet tall -- guys like me.

"Russell Wilson is going to go (in the draft) and he's going to go real quick,'' Gruden predicted, "and he's going to be one of those guys who defies the odds because the difference between Drew Brees and Michael Vick and Russell Wilson, size-wise, is that much ...''

Holding up his right hand, there was an inch separation between his index finger and thumb.

"That's what you're talking about Mel,'' he said of the size differential between the 5-11 Wilson and Brees and Vick, both of whom are listed at 6-foot. "You're starting to aggravate me again.''

Countered Kiper, "Jon, 28 of the 32 starting quarterbacks (in the NFL) are 6-2 or taller.''

Nobody under 6 feet is starting in the league right now, he added.

Enter McShay who has taken on the co-draft guru role with Kiper for ESPN.

"I do think his accuracy dips a little bit when he's in the pocket compared to when he's rolling out,'' he said of Wilson. "But I never scouted a quarterback who's under 6 feet tall who can see the field and do the things that he can do.''

McShay admitted that he had Wilson projected for the sixth or seventh round when he began watching him. "I didn't give him a chance,'' he said. "(But) I kept watching him and watching him and I got to know him a little bit and I got to talk to people around him.

"This guy has everything you look for in the quarterback position. To me, he is the test case; he shows that somebody his size can get it done. I truly believe at some point in time we're going to be talking about Russell Wilson as a starter in the NFL.''

Kiper then felt obligated to defend himself.

"I'm not picking on Russell Wilson; I'm a fan of Russell Wilson,'' he emphasized. "On a scale of 1 to 10 -- character-wise -- he's a 15. Jon, I said it yesterday, if he was 6-2, he'd be a top-10 pick.''

Berman name-dropped Doug Flutie into the discussion.

McShay said, "It's going to take him being Drew Brees. He's going to have to do every single thing that Drew Brees does; all the little things (because) there are limitations.''

Throughout this heated exchange between analysts, the camera was on Wilson.

"I think he wants to jump through the TV and strangle you right now,'' McShay said to Kiper.

Wilson, who had a whimsical look on his face, picked up the TV remote.

"He just muted you, Mel,'' McShay bellowed.

Kiper then presented his summation to the jury.

"If he's good enough to make it, he will open up the door (to other QBs under 6 feet),'' Kiper said. "I think we'd all agree on one thing, he will have to beat the odds.''

Berman interjected that "the odds are beatable'' before Gruden responded with his closing argument.
"This kid can play,'' he said. "He's going to prove it to you (pointing at Kiper). He's going to prove it to you (pointing at McShay). He's going to prove it to everybody. You just wait and see.''

ESPN finally got around to interviewing Wilson.

"It was a remarkable experience,'' he said of the phone call that he received from Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who formerly worked for the Green Bay Packers.

"It was an unbelievable moment for me. I've been waiting for this my whole entire life. The Lord is so good -- to have my family here with me -- I know my dad is watching (Russell Wilson's father, Harrison, passed away in June of 2010).''

Former UW quarterback Darrell Bevell, who led the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and the Rose Bowl, is the offensive coordinator in Seattle. Based on his conversations, Wilson said that he knew that the Seahawks were serious about him.

"I knew it would be a great place for me to play,'' he said.

Although the Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn (the former Packer) and still have Tarvaris Jackson on their roster, Gruden was of the opinion that it was a good fit for Wilson because Seattle runs a West Coast offense similar to what Wilson operated during his four years at NC State.

"Coach Gruden, as you know, it's a great offense to be in,'' said Wilson, who appeared on ESPN's Gruden's QB Camp series. "But I want to know it all. Like we talked about being on a quest for knowledge; I'm definitely going to be on that quest and I can't wait to learn.

"I have to get there (Seattle) and learn the playbook as quick as possible and just dive into it and try to be a great teammate and a great lockeroom guy, and just work my butt off.''

Reflecting on his Badger experience, Wilson said, "I went to an unbelievable place in the University of Wisconsin and had a tremendous coach in Bret Bielema and had a great offensive coordinator in Paul Chryst ...

"I got there (Madison) July 1; pretty much everyone was away on Fourth of July weekend. I called a player's only meeting on July 7 and brought all the guys together. I told them about my life. I told them about my situation from going to NC State and why I wanted to go to Wisconsin.''

Wilson also told his new UW teammates "how I was there to compete and how I was there to win and I think the guys really fed off of that and really understood that I was there to do everything I could to be the best player that I could be ...''

Kiper eventually got around to addressing the question du jour to Wilson, "What do you say to doubters and skeptics who say anyone under 6 feet can't be a starter in the NFL?''

"The main thing,'' Wilson replied, "is this has been my perspective my whole life. My height doesn't define my skill set. I know I'm 5-11, but I can play tall in the pocket. I can make accurate throws. I can deliver the ball on time. I can be great on third down and be great in the red zone.

"One thing I can control is my work ethic. I can also control my knowledge of the game -- how I study and how I get into the film room and how I just try to learn as much as I possibly can to give me that much more of an advantage .. I'm so fired up to be a Seattle Seahawk. I can't wait to play.''

McShay spoke for many, maybe even Kiper, when he concluded, "He wins you over.''
ON WISCONSIN