Fran Tarkenton hung up his well-worn cleats for good nine years before Koa Misi’s birth. Not surprisingly, Misi claimed this week he had never heard of the Vikings’ “Mad Scrambler,” a nine-time Pro Bowler.
But the Dolphins’ starting outside linebacker doesn’t need to access NFL Films’ archives to get a feel for how Tarkenton played the game.
An afternoon spent chasing Russell Wilson should do the trick. At least, that’s the take of Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who grew up watching Tarkenton lead Minnesota to Super Bowls.
Like Tarkenton, Wilson — the Seahawks’ diminutive-yet-effective rookie quarterback — has spent his career defying critics obsessed with metrics such as height and weight.
Because of his size — 5-11, 206 pounds — Wilson fell to the 75th pick in April’s draft. Nearly everyone outside the Pacific Northwest expected him to back up Matt Flynn in Seattle this season.
But after winning the starting job in training camp, Wilson has emerged as one of the league’s best young quarterbacks — of any size.
“It [did] fuel my fire during that whole process, and you just continue to improve and be competitive every Sunday,” Wilson said when asked about his doubters.
“I know that I’m playing for a lot of kids down the road, kids in the future that are my height,” he added. “That’s a little thing for me that challenges me every day. I love the process. I believe God’s given me the ability to play in the National Football League, and play at a high level.”
So far, it appears Wilson’s stature hasn’t affected his ability to see the field on the pro level. He has completed 62 percent of his passes this season and thrown 15 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. His 90.5 quarterback rating was 12th in the NFL entering Thursday, and second-best among the five rookies who opened the season as starters. Most importantly, Wilson has the Seahawks at 6-4 and in the thick of the NFC wild card hunt.
But what makes Wilson truly dangerous is his versatility. He’s a dual threat.
One of the Seahawks’ go-to plays is the zone-read option, which keeps linebackers guessing whether Wilson will run the ball out of the shotgun or hand it to his running back. Wilson has rushed for 189 yards this season, fourth-most among NFL quarterbacks.
“He can throw the ball, but he runs the ball exceptionally well for a quarterback,” Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett said. “So he’s more like a running back who can throw the ball.”
That combination has been kryptonite for the Dolphins’ defense, especially during Miami’s current three-game losing streak. Andrew Luck’s ability to extend plays killed the Dolphins in Indianapolis, and Tennessee’s Jake Locker was more effective with his legs than his arm.
Miami has managed just five sacks in the past three weeks, while allowing 394 yards on the ground.
Wilson has been sacked only 19 times in 10 games. But a lot of that is by design, as the Seahawks have thrown the ball only 255 times — fewest in the league — and are averaging an NFL-worst 174.8 yards per game through the air.
But Wilson’s craftiness — and yes, perhaps even his size — also has a lot to do with the low sack total. He’s hard to hit.
“The guys just have to do their job,” Misi said. “The [defensive] line has to keep him in the pocket, and everybody needs to stay on their coverage and not try to do anything else.”
Misi wouldn’t say whether the Dolphins plan to assign a linebacker to track Wilson throughout the game, a practice known as “spying.” But the team does have a plan in place intended to neutralize Wilson’s mobility.
“He’s got good presence and awareness in the pocket and he’s a good athlete,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “So those two things are a good combination.”
Good now and back when Tarkenton played.