by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

What is it they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men?

So it goes for the Seattle Seahawks, who have gone through some wild gyrations in their look for a new quarterback since last season. And where they have eventually landed is in a place that not even HC Pete Carroll probably imagined after the 2011 campaign concluded almost nine months ago.

In that span of time, the Seahawks have discarded the QB that Carroll, upon his hiring in 2010, originally thought was going to be the Seattle savior (Charlie Whitehurst), traded away the starter for much of the 2011 campaign (Tarvaris Jackson), and have apparently opted not to start their high-priced free-agent acquisition of the offseason, ex-LSU and Green Bay QB Matt Flynn, instead moving in yet another direction.

Would you believe a QB taken in the third round of last April’s NFL Draft?

Believe it, because it’s true, as ex-Wisconsin and NC State hero Russell Wilson has proven so irresistible in his performance during the preseason that Carroll could make no other choice. And after a dazzling performance in his first start during last week’s preseason game at Kansas City, Wilson indeed has been named the starter for the opener at Arizona on September 9.

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More on Wilson and the QB situation in a moment. In the meantime we ponder the subject of the 2012 Seahawks, suddenly one of the more-intriguing NFL storylines for this fall.

Oddsmakers aren’t quite sure what to make of Seattle, taking a wait-and-see attitude. The Seahawks are the consensus second pick in the NFC West at 9/2, although the 49ers are prohibitively favored in the division. Seattle isn’t the longest shot on the board to win the NFC (33/1) or Super Bowl (50/1), but is hardly being mentioned among the serious contenders, either.

Nevada wagering outlets also have the Seahawks’ season-win total at a very modest 7 wins.

Speaking of seven wins, that’s been a popular number for Seattle since Carroll beat the posse out of Southern Cal and pending NCAA sanctions after the 2009 season. Both of Carroll’s first two Seahawks teams finished 7-9, but there was a big difference between 2010 and 2011. In the former, 7-9 was good enough to win the NFC West; last season it was only good for third place in the division, six games behind the 13-3 49ers at the top of the quartet as Jim Harbaugh’s side set a new benchmark and target in what has been a weak division in recent years.

Back to the QB situation...

With the bar raised in the West, Carroll knew what he had to do in the offseason to close the gap on the 49ers after mistakenly going thin at QB last summer, when Carroll believed he could stay afloat with holdover Charlie Whitehurst and ex-Viking Tarvaris Jackson leading the charge.

So much for that idea. Enter Flynn...and Wilson.

Carroll knew that upgrades were needed behind center if the Seahawks were going to have a chance to reel in the 49ers. After briefly trying to convince Peyton Manning to give Seattle a look, Carroll opted for the next-best alternative in the free-agent marketplace, ex-Packer Matt Flynn, who like some other past Green Bay backups (such as Mark Brunell and the Seahawks’ former QB Matt Hasselbeck) only seems to need a chance, which probably wasn’t going to happen at Lambeau Field and Aaron Rodgers in the way.

But the fun was just beginning.

Flynn thus entered preseason on top of the new Seahawk depth chart at QB that also featured Wilson, the former NC State and Wisconsin QB who polarized many NFL teams, many of which not sure if his prodigious college numbers and leadership skills would be negated by his lack of size. Carroll, however, saw Wilson as a potential Drew Brees-like performer, and was wowed by how quickly the rookie picked up the Seahawk playbook in the OTAs.

And preseason efforts seem to have rewarded that faith in Wilson, although it’s doubtful even the prenaturally-optimistic Carroll could have envisioned Wilson taking town by such a storm in the preseason. The ex- NC State & Wisconsin QB has wowed everybody, especially Carroll, in the first three preseason games by completing 67% of his throws for 5 TDs and only 1 pick, while also running for 150 yards and a TD.

Meanwhile, Flynn, who couldn’t lead a TD drive when starting the first two preseason games, now enters the regular-season as a high-priced backup. As for Tarvaris Jackson, he’s been traded to the Bills.

We’ll give this to Carroll, who was hired for the exact same reason he’s rolling the dice with Wilson. Carroll’s appeal is that he is unafraid to take a chance; it backfired with his QBs a year ago, and it might again with Wilson. But not many NFL coaches would have the nerve to bench their highest-priced FA addition who happened to be a quarterback with a new $26 million deal, $10 mill of that being guaranteed, as was Flynn.

Perhaps Wilson fizzles, in which case Flynn is a nice (if expensive) safety blanket. As long-time Wilson fans, however, we suspect that Carroll has pulled off what could be one of the all-time draft steals. In fact, we’re sure Carroll wouldn’t trade Wilson even-up for second pick and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III of the Redskins; if he had the chance, we're not sure he would even deal Wilson for Andrew Luck.

See what a difference a few months can make?

Assuming the Hawks get better QB play this fall, perhaps they can make an advance on the 49ers in the NFC West. The offense hopes to have better balance in 2012, especially if the versatile and playmaking Wilson acts not like a rookie, but rather the poised vet he has appeared to be in preseason, as he orchestrates o.c. Darrell Bevell’s West Coast attack, while vet RB Marshawn Lynch remaining in the fold after re-signing in the offseason. Still productive (1204 YR and 12 TDs in 2011), Carroll and Bevell nonetheless remain sensitive to the many poundings Lynch and his physical style have absorbed and will likely be spotting muscle-bound Utah State rookie Robert Turbin (perhaps another draft steal in the 4th round), who has impressed in early preseason work, in order to better pace Lynch this fall.

In fact, Turbin (left, in the preseason opener vs. Tennessee) rushed for 93 yards, scoring once on a 25-yard run, when starting in place of Lynch in the third exhibition game at Kansas City, indicating he can effectively spell Lynch. As for Lynch, he's been taking it easy with back spasms, but is expected to be ready for the September 9 opener at Arizona.

It will still help Wilson (or, at some point this fall, perhaps Flynn) to have big-play WR Sidney Rice in a healthy state after he missed seven games last fall due to injury. Ex-Stanford charge Doug Baldwin emerged as a nice possession-type receiver in Rice’s absence, but has been hampered by hamstring issues in preseason. The brief experiment with Terrell Owens ended before the final preseason game, although another vet, Braylon Edwards, has impressed in exhibition play and will apparently stick on the roster (apparently, if sources are to be believed, at the expense of Owens).

The Hawks, however, will benefit from the downfield threat a healthy Rice can provide. An X-factor in the passing game could be TE Kellen Winslow, who arrived in a trade with the Bucs and competes with holdover TE Zach Miller for snaps.

Meanwhile, Carroll did some more gambling in the draft when tabbing West Virginia’s enigmatic DE Bruce Irvin (right) with the 15th pick in the first round. When right, Irvin was considered the best pass rusher in the college ranks a year ago, but maturity issues scared some teams away at Radio City Music Hall in late April. Carroll and d.c. Gus Bradley, however, envision Irvin as a center-piece of the stop unit, although at the outset he might be on the field only as a situational sub (likely on passing downs).

Irvin is only part of a defensive line upgrade that also included adding free agent DT Jason Jones from the Titans. Along with re-signing DE Red Bryant, Seattle’s front four should have a robust look, also featuring holdovers DT Brandon Mebane and DE Chris Clemons.

There are concerns in the LB crew, however, after last year’s platoon leader, MLB David Hawthorne, left in free agency to the Saints. Carroll hoped to fill the gap by signing another ex-Titan, Barrett Ruud, in his place, although Rudd endured an injury-plagued campaign a year ago in Nashville and was still rehabilitating knee and shoulder injuries this summer. And when another Utah State rookie (like RB Turbin), second-round pick MLB Bobby Wagner (left, chasing down Chief RB Jamaal Charles on Aug. 25 at Arrowhead), impressed in preseason, Carroll decided he could part with Ruud and traded him to the Saints. Wagner thus becomes the new MLB.

The secondary, rebuilt last season, retains much the same look as a year ago, when Stanford rookie Richard Sherman emerged as an unlikely force late in the season and enters 2012 as the projected starter at the LCB spot.

Summary...Many NFC West observers suspect that the Seahawks appear the most-likely division entry to rise and challenge the 49ers this fall, but a quick peek at the Seahawks’ schedule suggests that a breakthrough won’t be easy, with non-division foes Green Bay, Dallas, Cam Newton and improving Carolina, and New England all on the schedule within the first six weeks.

The ultimate X-factor, however, is rookie QB Russell Wilson. Who, if as good as he has looked in early preseason action, makes the Seahawks a playoff threat. But, remember, it’s just preseason, and while we have always been pro-Wilson, we’ll wait until the regular season begins and a couple of games are played in September before jumping on the Wilson/Seahawks bandwagon.

Still if Wilson’s early efforts are no mirage, the Seahawks will have a puncher’s chance against anyone, especially at Century Link Field, which Carroll’s team has made a nice fortress and where it has covered the number in nine of its last eleven home games. We usually don’t react this way after just a few preseason games, but expect Seattle to at least be on the periphery of the wild card mix with a chance to return to the postseason if Wilson is indeed as good as he has looked (and we suspect he is that good) in August.


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