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Facing long odds, Wilson hasn't come up short

Seahawks vertically challenged rookie QB standing tall

Dan Pompei

On the NFL

8:58 PM CST, November 29, 2012

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Being short has cost Russell Wilson money, not touchdowns.

The quarterback from Wisconsin fell to the Seahawks in the third round in the NFL draft and was the sixth quarterback taken because he measures is 5 feet 105/8.

He might need a step stool to reach the chin-up bar, but he has thrown more touchdown passes — 17 — than any of the quarterbacks chosen ahead of him. His 93.9 passer rating and his 63.6 completion percentage rank second highest among the rookie quarterbacks.

Wilson, who will be trying to see over 6-6 Israel Idonije and 6-5 Julius Peppers when the Seahawks visit the Bears on Sunday, said his height has not been issue.

"I don't think it ever will be just because of the way I work," Wilson said. "(As) a shorter quarterback, I know I have to stay tall, have a high, quick release and throw on time. I have to understand the game, understand the defenses. That's what helps me."

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said he has not had to make any game plan concessions because of Wilson's height.

"We haven't done anything to take that into account," Bevell said. "Is there a time that shows up? Maybe. I'm sure there is a play or two a game when he might have to move. But I don't think it's any different with a guy who's 6-4."

Wilson mobility and feel for when to use it is a help.

"You try not to throw over people, and that goes for the tall guys as well," Bevell said. "He throws in lanes, in windows and does what he needs to do to get there."

Wilson has had seven passes batted down at the line this year. Fifteen quarterbacks in the NFL have had more, including fellow rookies Brandon Weeden (14), Ryan Tannehill (13) and Andrew Luck (10).

It probably has helped Wilson that he has taken 55 percent of his snaps on passes in the shotgun. But according to STATS, that's only 4 percent more than the Seahawks used when 6-2 Tarvaris Jackson was starting last year.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider says Wilson reminds him of Drew Brees. At 6-0, the Saints quarterback is similarly height challenged.

"He is like Drew in that he has long arms and big hands, so his release point is not low," Schneider said.

At the 2011 scouting combine, Wilson's hands measured 101/4 inches, bigger than those of Robert Griffin III, Tannehill and Weeden. They are even bigger than the hands of 6-5, 245-pound Cam Newton, the first pick in the 2011 draft.

If Wilson continues to have success, he could change the way shorter quarterbacks are perceived.

The list of great undersized quarterbacks in NFL history is, well, a short one.

If you consider only quarterbacks from the last 50 years who were 6-0 or shorter, only a handful have risen above. Len Dawson (6-0), Sonny Jurgensen (5-11) and Fran Tarkenton (6-0) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brees very well may join them in Canton one day.

Joe Theismann (6-0) was an NFL most valuable player. Others who made Pro Bowl appearances are Bob Berry (5-11), Pat Haden (5-11), Billy Kilmer (6-0), Eddie LeBaron (5-7), Michael Vick (6-0) and a player Bears fans should remember — Doug Flutie.

The 5-10 Flutie bombed out in Chicago after Bears teammates dubbed him "Bambi" and he came up short in the 1986 playoffs. But he had some moments over 12 NFL seasons in which he was 37-28 as a starter.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, the man who brought Flutie back to the NFL after an eight-year stint in the Canadian Football League, once told me Flutie's big hands helped him overcome his lack of stature.

"Doug had a knack," he said. "I don't know how he actually threw. I used to stand behind him just to get a feel. I couldn't figure it out, even the long balls."

Smith also brought Flutie to the Chargers and later was part of the front office that drafted Brees. That makes him a foremost authority on short quarterbacks.

He acknowledges that lack of height is a detriment, but a short QB can minimize the damage if he has certain qualities.

"He needs great vision, great instincts and be able to move and shuffle a bit, not to scramble so much but to be able to find the windows," Smith said. "And he has to have a quick release."

Wilson has those things. And he is likely to show them Sunday.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei