By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
It’s been a minute, but Pete Carroll has traveled this road before.
Entering his 13th season as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, Carroll has experience running quarterback competitions, saying the right thing in order to not give away too much on which player is ahead or who will wind up with the starting job in Week 1.
Following his overarching theme of “always compete,” Carroll, in his first season with the Seahawks in 2010, provided competition for incumbent Matt Hasselbeck by trading for Charlie Whitehurst from the Chargers. Hasselbeck easily won the starting quarterback job.
The next season, with Hasselbeck moving on to the Tennessee Titans, Whitehurst competed with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job, with Jackson getting the nod.
In 2012, Carroll had a three-man race between Jackson, high-dollar free agent acquisition Matt Flynn and rookie Russell Wilson — a competition won by Wilson, setting the table for Seattle’s Super Bowl run.
Now, with Wilson traded to the Denver Broncos, Carroll finds himself back where he started when he first took over. This time, the QBs competing for the starting job are the unproven Drew Lock and journeyman Geno Smith.
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The always-positive Carroll says Smith, entering his third season with Seattle, is currently out front because of his experience in the offense, but that Lock is close behind with training camp six weeks away.
“Geno’s still ahead, you can tell that,” Carroll told reporters last week. “But it’s not going to be too much for Drew to be caught up. By the time we get through camp, he’ll be there.
“He’s really bright, it makes sense to him, he’s really sharp in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. It’s just time that he needs.”
FOX Sports draft analyst Rob Rang, who knows the team thoroughly, believes that Lock will be the starter at some point during the regular season.
“Geno Smith has the advantage because of his familiarity with the offense and the players,” Rang said. “But Drew Lock is the younger and more gifted player. And I think with every passing day, the gap between he and Geno is likely to diminish.
“When it’s all said and done, I fully expect Drew to start more games and be more statistically successful for Seattle this season than Geno Smith.”
Selected in the second round by the Broncos in the 2019 draft, Lock was part of the blockbuster trade in March that sent Wilson to Denver. That deal also included Seattle giving up a fourth-round selection and securing two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round selection and two other players: tight end Noah Fant and defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
The 25-year-old Lock is 8-13 as a starter in three NFL seasons. He has one year left on his rookie deal at $1.45 million, so it makes sense for the Seahawks to find out what they have in Lock. Then they can decide whether to re-sign him or to pursue a franchise quarterback next year in a deep QB draft class that will include Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
“That’s why I scoff at the idea of Seattle bringing in someone like Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo,” Rang said. “It looks like it’s going to be a good quarterback class. So, you must know what you’ve got in Drew Lock, otherwise there was no point in including him as part of the trade.”
Both Carroll and Seahawks GM John Schneider said they liked Lock coming out of Missouri in 2019 and believe he could develop into a leader in their offense if he can curb the turnovers. Lock has 25 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions in 21 starts.
“This is not too big for him,” Carroll told reporters. “He’s ready for it. He has learned a lot in the years past.
“We’re showing him that we believe in him as a player, and we believe that he can get it done. … I don’t know that he always felt like that.”
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A second-round selection by the New York Jets in the 2013 draft, Smith has played for four NFL teams in eight seasons. Subbing for an injured Wilson last year, the West Virginia product was 1-2 as a starter, completing 68% of his passes for 704 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
For his career, the 31-year-old Smith is 13-21 as a starter, completing 59% of his passes for 6,917 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract this offseason with the Seahawks.
“I feel like we kind of know what Geno Smith is,” Rang said. “With his arm talent and mobility, Lock is better suited for an offense that’s going to have to put up points, given the level of competition in the NFC West.”
Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron said both Lock and Smith will get a chance to work with the starters throughout training camp. The Seahawks can use those reps, along with the three preseason games, to thoroughly evaluate which QB should be the starter when they open the regular season at home against Wilson and the Broncos on Sept. 12.
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“I think really just the overall command of the position, who gives us the best chance to win games when it comes to the fall,” Waldron said when asked by reporters what he looks for in deciding the starter. “Right now, it’s just a good learning op … for them to really build that foundation where they can go into training camp and put themselves in the best positions to compete.”
While Carroll will stay true to his mantra of always competing, Rang believes Lock needs to emerge from the two-man competition as the starter.
“If he does a good job, and they’re able to feel like he’s the guy moving forward, then great,” Rang said. “But if [Lock isn’t the starter], you certainly don’t want to wonder what if and allow Drew Lock to go elsewhere. And then he winds up being successful somewhere else, and you had him in your own camp.
“That’s why he has to get a significant run at this.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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