The Charlie Whitehurst Experiment

What follows is a guest post by Erik Ian Larsen, a former writer for the Chicago Tribune and an award-winning sports columnist. You can find the rest of his work atThe Sports Tzu or follow him on Twitter @erikianlarsen.

The scientific method relies on testing. If you don’t test, you can never know if your theories, your hypotheses, are valid. It’s the basis of all science, testing, and without it, we’d be left with an empirically-stagnant understanding of the world around us.

I don’t know if Charlie Whitehurst is a good quarterback. He is an unknown variable, an untested theory. Pete Carroll and John Schneider, the Seahawks head coach and general manager, respectively, don’t know that either. No amount of reps in practice or the classroom, hypotheticals at best, can accurately test whether or not Charlie Whitehurst is a good quarterback. We just don’t know, nobody knows. What we do know is that the Seahawks gave up a lot to get him, both in picks and financially, signing Whitehurst to a two-year $10 million deal that expires at the end of next season. We paid a lot of money to not test a theory thus far, and, in science, you’d have your grant taken away.

What we also know is Matt Hasselbeck. We know exactly what we’re going to get from Hasselbeck. 50-60% completions. 150-200 yards. 1-2 touchdowns. 1-2 turnovers. And a whole lot of panicky dives to the carpet under pressure. It was just announced today that, due to a “concussion” sustained last week against the Raiders, Hasselbeck is headed to the bench in favor of the non-concussed Whitehurst. My only question is: What took so long? Yes, we were winning (kinda), yes Hasselbeck had done what the coaches asked after a miserable start and managed his turnovers (kinda), but we were winning despite #8, we were winning because of defense and special teams. Why weren’t the Seahawks testing their theory, the Whitehurst theory, to know if they had something special.

It’s really easy to play it safe in the NFL. Most coaches do it to save their jobs. It’s a lot easier to get fired for being crazy than it is for being conservative, and NFL coaches know that. It’s why they don’t go for it very often on 4th down, it’s why they take a knee to end the half instead of launching a hail mary, and it’s why they stick with the quarterback who can “manage the game.” Just as NFL coaches have saved their jobs playing it safe, a lot of quarterbacks have done the same. But for this Seahawks team, the quarterback position is so much more important because of the critical timeline ahead. With Whitehurst’s contract already running down before he’s even thrown a pass in the league, with Hasselbeck’s contract expiring at the end of this season, and with an upcoming NFL Draft stocked with high-profile quarterbacks, this is the time to put our experiment to the test.

Hasselbeck’s concussion, real or not, should be the gateway to this profound scientific experiment. When Hasselbeck recovers, Whitehurst needs to remain the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks for potentially the remainder of the year. One game isn’t enough to come to a proper conclusion (in science or in sports, ever). Running one test in a lab is never going to be enough for science, and for a young quarterback getting his first real shot to show off his strong arm and needed athleticism, he needs more than just one fill-in game for an aging, struggling quarterback. He needs a real test, a real, sustained test against multiple opponents inside and outside the division, showing different defenses and working with adjustments on the offense. Charlie Whitehurst needs to be put through the NFL ringer. We need to know what he is, if he can be a great quarterback or if he’s a lifetime back-up … either way, we need to know, because this has implications not only on this year, but on the long-term success of the franchise.

If he comes in and can’t figure out the offense in a series of live games, if he can’t complete passes or is too scared to stay upright, we already know what our other variable is going to bring (Hasselbeck) and can switch back without any impact to the team’s chances to win games. If he can’t cut it at this level, we should know. Not in practice (to quote Allen Iverson), not in the film room, but in real games. There’s no excuse not to test him, especially when our current quarterback isn’t contributing to the overall success of the team. This is a win-win situation for the franchise. We can find out, once and for all, what we have, what we gave up so much to get, in Charlie Whitehurst, and can also start planning for the future, either with Whitehurst at the helm or targeting one of the great QB prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft.

This Whitehurst start should be the beginning of something, not the Band-Aid for a wounded veteran. An untested hypothesis is a pointless hypothesis, and the Seattle Seahawks now have a wonderful opportunity to finally reach evidence-based conclusions on the future of the franchise. I like Matt Hasselbeck, I think he’s been a great servant of the Seahawks, but this is a league built around strong-armed, athletic quarterbacks. Hasselbeck is neither. And if Whitehurst can be that guy, the Seahawks have no excuse not to find out.

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