By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — If Russell Wilson had listened to the doubters, he likely would have spent the summer riding a bus around North Carolina in baseball's low minor leagues.
But the 5-foot-11 second-year Seattle Seahawks star never has put much stock in his critics.
Supposedly too short to succeed at the NFL level, the quarterback who threw more touchdowns during his senior season at Wisconsin (33) than any Big Ten passer other than Drew Brees (39) lasted until the third round of the 2012 draft.
And even after Seattle finally took him off the board, he wasn't expected to start. Veteran backup Matt Flynn had been signed as a free agent from Green Bay ostensibly as an efficient game manager who could complement a rising defense and power running game and help the Seahawks reach the next level.
In the eyes of many scouts, Wilson would have been just as well off continuing to toil in the Colorado Rockies' organization and trying to work his way to the major leagues as a second baseman.
On Sunday, he'll arrive in Indianapolis as the leader of perhaps the NFL's most complete team and one of the rising faces of pro football's next generation.
"I've always been extremely, extremely confident in myself," Wilson said Wednesday during a conference call at the Colts' training facility. "I've never doubted myself or my abilities. I think the more experience you get, the more you understand situations. I think great quarterbacks are always great situational football players. I'm still trying to learn right now. I'm still in that constant quest for knowledge right now. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can through my experience."
He's proven to be a quick study.
Wilson won the starting job and completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 3,118 yards and tied Peyton Manning's rookie record with 26 touchdown tosses last season. He also threw just 10 interceptions and finished with a sparkling 100.0 quarterback rating.
The Seahawks finished second in the NFC West at 11-5 and won a wild card playoff game against fellow rookie Robert Griffin III — the No. 2 overall pick in the draft — and the Washington Redskins.
Sunday will mark Wilson's first meeting against the player taken first overall in his draft class — Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck — and he said he looks forward to matchups against his fellow 2012 QBs.
"It's always special," he said. "I think this quarterback class is going to be really, really good one day. We have a long ways to go. It's one of those things that when you look back at it — hopefully 15-20 years from now — hopefully, our goal is to be one of the best quarterback classes to ever play the game. We have a long ways to go, man. It's one of those things that you just take one day at a time. To be able to play against Andrew Luck, it's going to be a fun game."
Of course, as Luck points out, the quarterbacks aren't actually playing against each other.
Wilson's task will be to solve an Indianapolis defense that has allowed just 10 total points in its past two games. The Colts held San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick — Wilson's chief rival in the NFC West — to 13-of-27 passing for 150 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Kaepernick gained just 20 yards on seven rushes.
But Wilson provides a different challenge than other mobile young quarterbacks. He can run when his protection breaks down, but he prefers to get the ball into his receivers' hands and let them make plays.
"I think Russell probably does a better job keeping his eyes downfield when he's scrambling and extending the play," Colts cornerback Darius Butler said. "I would say he's more of a threat with his arm. He's a smart kid. He stays poised, for a young quarterback especially."
That poise was on display last week as the Seahawks (4-0) rallied from a 20-3 halftime deficit to beat the Houston Texans 23-20 in overtime. The victory was another step toward Seattle shedding its label as a weak team away from home, and it could serve as a signature win for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
But Wilson said Seattle already has moved on from that celebration and is focusing all its energy on the Colts.
"We have a huge week this week, obviously, preparing for a very good 3-1 Indianapolis Colts team that has tons and tons of ability," he said. "They're a very young team, but they also have some key experienced players on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball. They have great fans. It's going to be a very, very live game in terms of the energy in that building. We know that we're going to have to play championship-type football."