Why Geno Smith remains the frontrunner in the Seahawks’ QB competition

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer

Just don’t screw it up.

That appears to be the mindset of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as he selects a successor for Russell Wilson, the most accomplished quarterback in franchise history. Wilson, of course, now pleads his trade for the Broncos after the blockbuster offseason deal that sent him to Denver.

As it stands now, Seattle incumbent Geno Smith remains the frontrunner in a quarterback competition with Drew Lock. That’s largely by default, however, as Lock was unable to start the preseason game on Thursday against the Chicago Bears. On Tuesday, after working an entire practice with the starters for the first time this training camp, Lock tested positive for COVID-19 and must stay home for the next few days.

“It’s disappointing he didn’t get a chance to play tonight,” Carroll said after the 27-11 loss to Chicago. “We had a different plan tonight, and we weren’t able to execute it. We couldn’t do anything about it. I’m still curious to see how he plays with us.”

Carroll went on to say that Lock is still “really sick” and that he’s hopeful the QB will be cleared and healthy enough to play in Seattle’s final preseason game next week in Dallas.

This week Smith got his second preseason start, and it wasn’t pretty, partially due to penalties and some drops. Overall, Seattle’s offense with the West Virginia product under center was largely ineffective. The Bears staked a 17-0 lead at halftime and won handily.

Smith played the entire first half, finishing 10-of-18 for 112 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith did not play in the second half after bruising his right knee, but Carroll said he should be fine. Smith has yet to throw a touchdown pass through two preseason games.

“Obviously, there’s a ton of room for improvement, and a lot of things we have to improve on very quickly,” Smith told reporters after the game.

Both quarterbacks had their moments in Seattle’s first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith finished 10-of-15 for 101 yards and led a nice scoring drive during a 2-minute drill at the end of the first half, running in from two yards out for the score.

Lock finished 11-of-15 for 102 yards and two touchdown passes in the second half. However, he failed to account for pressure on the edge during the final drive, getting sacked and fumbling. The turnover led to the winning score for the Steelers in a 32-25 Seahawks loss.

The game highlighted the weaknesses of both players: Smith’s limitations in creating big plays, and Lock’s proclivity to turn the ball over. Of those issues, Carroll appears willing to trade a lack of explosive plays for ball security, which is one of the reasons Smith remains QB1.

“I don’t even have to say that,” Carroll told reporters when asked which quarterback leads the competition this week. “Geno is still our No. 1 guy. He’s holding onto his spot at this point.”

FOX Sports draft analyst Rob Rang, who follows the Seahawks closely, says that Smith has earned the opportunity to be the quarterback to start the season. But things could change throughout the year, depending on how the Hawks perform in the win column.

“I think that Geno Smith wins the job, but I still believe that Drew Lock is the more talented quarterback,” Rang said. “The critical error that led to the sack [in Pittburgh] — losing the ball and losing the game — that’s the kind of stuff that we’ve seen with Drew Lock in Denver.

“But at the same time, the accuracy is just a night and day difference. Drew Lock is the more gifted passer. But No. 1 for Pete Carroll is protecting the team. Turnovers hurt the team.”

The Seahawks are three weeks away from the season opener, when they host Wilson’s Broncos in his return to Lumen Field. While it would be nice to get some extra juice from Lock starting against his former team, right now the Seahawks don’t even know if he’ll be healthy enough to practice next week.

The beginning of training camp is all about building towards the start of the regular season and getting your frontline players ready to play. So, it’s instructive to consider that according to reports, Smith has taken almost all the reps during practice with the starters.

After moving on from Wilson, this year has always been about 2023 for the Seahawks, when they have two first-round picks and an opportunity to select the next franchise quarterback from a group that includes Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud.

For Carroll, Smith has been in this system for three years and understands Seattle’s blueprint for success: Run the football, don’t turn the ball over, play good defense and make the crucial plays at the end of the game.

“With Geno, you know what you’re going to get, so it’s easier to game plan,” Rang said. “It’s easier to anticipate what the score is going to be, so you can better prepare yourself for what your opponent might do.

“Geno Smith and his experience can be a little bit of a security blanket for Pete Carroll.”

Even if it didn’t look like it on Thursday.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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