Russell Wilson finally gets to face the quarterback he has looked up to
Since he was a preteen, Wilson has studied Drew Brees’ poise and play. On Monday, he finally gets a chance to square off against the Saints QB.
Seattle Times columnist
Richard Sherman cuts to the chase, characteristically, when asked to assess the similarities between Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.
“They’re not particularly tall,” he said.
But that’s just a superficial analysis. If you stop there, you’re missing the bigger picture on numerous levels, as these two masters prepare to square off for the first time. And missing the picture is one of many things that the hyper-aware Brees and his equally attuned young protégé rarely do.
Sherman certainly didn’t stop, noting that Brees and Wilson, other than sharing diminutive stature, are actually quite distinct in their quarterbacking styles.
Wilson is all about mobility, moving around the pocket, finding his receivers while on the run, with the ever-present threat of taking off himself. Brees has more of a pocket presence as he “gets on his tippy-toes and tries to see over the top of the offensive line,” as Sherman aptly described.
The similarities between the two, however, are where the intrigue lies. There is an undeniable affinity between Wilson and Brees, one that may have been borne of a youngster watching a similar-sized player succeed at the highest level but has since far transcended that link.
Wilson said he first became aware of Brees when the latter was starring at Purdue and his father told him to check this guy out. Since Brees’ last year with the Boilermakers was 2000, that would have placed Wilson as a preteen.
“I was like, ‘Who is Drew Brees? Where’s Purdue at?’ ” Wilson said. “I didn’t know where Purdue was. Then I realized they were in the Big Ten, and they were throwing the ball a ton with him in the shotgun — four-wide, five-wide — and he was just killing teams. So that’s when I really started watching Drew Brees.”
From that point, Brees became a focal point for Wilson, one of a small group of quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning, who were role models in his formative years.
Wilson read Brees’ book, “Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity” – twice. He studied Brees in action, both on the field and in interviews, absorbing every nuance and nugget. He noticed that they had a similar throwing style and nearly identical footwork, making him a perfect subject to study.
And then, finally, at last year’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Wilson finally had the opportunity to meet Brees, a teammate on the NFC squad. He wasn’t about to let the moment pass without soaking up every bit of knowledge and insight he could.
“I’m sure he kind of puppy-dogged him around the hotel,’’ joked Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Except it kind of wasn’t a joke. Wilson acknowledged that he paid particular attention to Brees’s preparation, approach, and the way he carried himself.
“When you meet him, he’s just so poised,’’ Wilson said. “He’s so patient, he’s so understanding, but he also has a sense of urgency about everything he does.”
Wilson noted how even in practice, Brees was able to instantly command a huddle teeming with stars.
“He just got all of their attention so quickly, by the inflection in his voice, by the determination he had to simply win the Pro Bowl,” Wilson said.
For his part, Brees was flattered but not surprised by the attention, having been warned by Saints teammate Nick Toon, who played with Wilson at Wisconsin, that the then-rookie was a big fan and likely aching to pick his brain.
“I was kind of waiting for the opportunity to meet him, and, sure enough, we had that week together at the Pro Bowl,” Brees said. “I couldn’t have been more impressed. You can tell the guy loves football. We talked a lot of football, we talked about a lot of other stuff, too.
“He’s a student of the game. He wants to be great, and I think he was just soaking it all up.”
The conversation continued when the two met up again during the Super Bowl in New Orleans the following week. They exchanged numbers and texted back and forth through the remainder of the offseason. Their communication has continued intermittently during this season.
“I think very highly of him not only as a player, but as a person,’’ Brees said.
At one point, Wilson got to hit Brees with a question he had been eager to ask: How did he separate himself from his rookie season, and advance toward greatness?
“My approach every day,” Brees told him. “Every day I walk into the locker room, every day that I wake up, it’s a constant grind to try to improve myself.”
That tip was affirming to Wilson, who already tried to embody those characteristics.
“It’s the same philosophy I always thought,” Wilson said, “but it’s also good to hear it from a guy that’s going to be a Hall of Famer, a guy that’s one of the best quarterbacks that’s ever played the game.”
On Monday night, in a vital game for both teams, Wilson will get a chance to show Brees in person how far he has progressed. The last thing on either of their minds will be striking a blow for smaller quarterbacks, though no doubt there will be young quarterbacks of that description all over the country gathering inspiration, just as an adolescent Wilson once did.
“I’ve never looked at it as an issue for myself, and I’m sure Russell has never looked at it as an issue for him,’’ Brees said. “There are so many other more important things about playing the quarterback position besides your height.’’
Wilson aims to discover them all — and if that means picking the brain of Drew Brees, he’s going to do that.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry