The Seattle Seahawks‘ playoff run had ended three weeks earlier at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round. But like everyone else in the football world, Wilson watched from afar as Brady piled up 466 yards en route to his fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Wilson saw how Brady appeared to be moving better at age 39 than he did at 25. He took notice of how Brady maneuvered in the pocket. He took notice of how Brady’s arm looked as strong as ever. He listened this offseason when Brady said he’d like to play at least into his mid-40s before he even considers retirement.
“Uh, yeah, I pay attention,” Wilson told ESPN.com. “I’ll say that. I pay attention. Something that I’ve observed and seen. He’s a great example of longevity. He’s a great example of being able to be mobile — a different mobility, but you know what I mean. Being able to seem like he’s just getting better. That’s what I always want to be. That’s my focus.”
The highlight of the Seahawks’ 2016 season was a Week 10 victory over Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Seattle was the only team to beat New England in the 15 games (postseason included) that Brady started. Wilson threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns on that November night. But overall, his 2016 season was marred by three different injuries.
Wilson still has not missed a game in his five-year NFL career, but last season poked at his invincibility. He rushed for a career-low 259 yards, and the Seahawks had to shrink their playbook because Wilson was mostly a nonfactor with his legs. A year after finishing with the most efficient offense in the NFL, Seattle fell all the way down to No. 17.
Before last season even ended, Wilson decided that he needed to make some changes to reduce the possibility of a repeat performance.
“I want to play 25 years,” he repeated three times during the course of a 15-minute conversation, ignoring the fact that no QB has ever played that long.
Wilson sought out a full-time trainer who could help him around the clock, and he quickly decided on 25-year-old Decker Davis, whom he had known previously. When Wilson vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and traveled to China on a Nike trip this summer, Davis was there by his side like another member of the family.
Wilson spends most of his offseason in Los Angeles, so Davis found a place to stay that was five minutes away. When Wilson moved to Seattle for the start of the offseason program, Davis did the same.
“He travels with me everywhere I go,” Wilson said. “We go everywhere together. He’s super detailed. We can go in any situation, any scenario, any location and find something to do. We’re constantly doing that.”
Davis offered his assessment.
“This is my sole focus — all with him and also with Ciara [Wilson’s wife]. She had her baby, so we’ll be doing some circuit type of training. So I’m full time for them, for the family.”
In February, when Davis officially began his new role, the mornings with Wilson began with a swim or a boxing workout at Freddie Roach’s gym, Wild Card, in Hollywood.
“It wasn’t the first time I boxed, but it was the first time I got to go work out with Freddie Roach,” Wilson said. “One thing I really wanted to work on was my feet. And Freddie and I worked on my feet a bunch. Just working on my balance and quickness and just continuing to build my game.
“The idea of being able to do anything and everything at any moment; and so you have to be prepared for that. Also, great boxers have great defense too, meaning being able to move and get away and all that. So that was something that was really important to me too. And it’s a great conditioning workout — one of the hardest workouts you could ever do.”
On Mondays and Thursdays, Wilson would work on his upper body, but he stayed away from straight-arm exercises (such as the bench press) to reduce the risk of injury. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he would work his lower body. Wednesday was a light day.
Davis previously worked under Wilson’s former trainer, Ryan Flaherty. The concept of his offseason workouts is to combine heavier lifts with plyometrics (such as a box jump). To have a long career, Wilson realizes flexibility needs to be just as much of a focus as strength training.
In addition to hiring Davis, Wilson completely revamped his diet. And Wilson added another full-timer to his personal staff: physical therapist Janet Jin. During minicamps in June, Jin would be at the team’s practice facility working on Wilson throughout the day, in between his team obligations.
She would warm him up before the Seahawks’ first practice. When Wilson broke for lunch, he would have another session with Jin. And one more later in the day at home.
“The way I describe it is muscles firing on all cylinders,” Jin said. “I don’t want him going into practice where his muscles are only firing on only four cylinders when it should be eight. So I work on mobility, stability and activation, making sure that he’s ready to go for practice.”
Wilson said he has noticed a difference specifically with how his throwing arm and shoulder feel after working with Jin. And Pete Carroll noted during the spring that Wilson’s arm looks stronger than ever.
But how does the head coach feel about Wilson having his own personal team in addition to what the team provides?
“To be organized with help like that — a number of our guys have people they go back to work with because we can’t get near them for the six weeks, and there’s the time frame between the end of the season and middle of April,” Carroll said. “These guys have to go somewhere so they develop great relationships, hopefully. Russell’s got a really good group behind him, and we’ve met together with his folks just to make sure everyone’s on the same page, and it’s worked out fine.”
Jin said her work with Wilson at the practice facility was cleared by the Seahawks.
“They know that I’m doing this. I don’t want to interfere with what’s going on with the team and the other members of the Seahawks,” Jin said. “So I stay out of the way. We go to a separate room to make sure that there isn’t a distraction. The Seahawks know about it, and I communicate with them and they’re fine with it. But ultimately, what they understand is the reason that we’re doing this is because it’s not only benefiting Russell, it benefits the whole team. He wants to help this team win a Super Bowl.”
When Wilson got injured last year, he flew in a physical therapist and underwent treatments in the middle of the night at his home. This year, he’ll have Jin. She moved to Seattle from Los Angeles, and she will be on call 24/7 during the season to help the quarterback.
On the field, Wilson reconnected with his former offensive coordinator from NC State, Dana Bible. They would watch film at USC in between workouts, going through Wilson’s tape from his first five years in the league, in addition to watching other quarterbacks.
The key for Wilson will be getting back to the player he was the second half of the 2015 campaign. During an eight-game stretch then, he completed 67.5 percent of his passes, averaged 8.62 yards per attempt and threw 25 touchdowns with only two interceptions. Wilson was lethal from the pocket. But one of the reasons for his success was that his protection held up.
Last season, Wilson was pressured on 36.5 percent of his dropbacks, the highest mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The team signed Luke Joeckel in free agency and drafted Ethan Pocic in the second round. The coaches are optimistic that young players such as George Fant, Germain Ifedi and Mark Glowinski will improve. But the offensive line remains the biggest question mark on the team.
From a weapons standpoint, this might be the best group to play with Wilson. His targets will include Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Lockett and C.J. Prosise. Jermaine Kearse will look to bounce back from a down 2016 campaign, and Paul Richardson will try to build on the momentum he created at the end of last season.
Wilson and his teammates worked together at USC during the spring. There is a sense around the team that this could be the Seahawks’ last chance at a Super Bowl while their current core group is still together. There’s a feeling that the past three years have been filled with too many missed opportunities.
But it’s fair to wonder why this was the year Wilson made so many changes. He has been in the league since 2012 and always has had a plan for offseason training. Going into his sixth season, why did he feel he had to change things up and hire a full-time trainer and a full-time physical therapist? Why now did he decide to completely change the way he eats and bring in his college coach for help?
The answer goes back to last season’s injuries.
“He gained some weight because he wasn’t able to run,” Davis said. “He wasn’t able to have that cardio and run as much as he did the previous years. And still, he didn’t miss a game after suffering those injuries. Just seeing him gain that weight and slow down, that’s not Russ. I think once he felt that weight, once he felt himself slowing down, that was it for him. He was like, ‘I’m hiring a full-time trainer. I don’t want to get like this. I don’t want to feel like this ever again.’
“I can’t say that’s not going to happen, because you never know what’s going to happen in an NFL game. But my goal is to never have him feel that way ever again. So his injuries were a big part of it.”
On Sunday, the Seahawks will open training camp with legitimate Super Bowl expectations. They’ve made it to at least the divisional round in all five of Wilson’s NFL seasons, but they are hungry for a second Lombardi trophy.
The Seahawks are banking on an improved offensive line and a more efficient run game. With safety Earl Thomas returning, it should go a long way in fixing the issues on defense.
But the reality is that a healthy Wilson is the biggest key to Seattle going on a run.
“I want to play 25 years and be in every game,” Wilson said. “So, to me, how do you get there? That’s the simple question I ask myself.
“I feel great. I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I feel like I’m 18 all over again. So that’s something that I’ve been really invested in is having a great team of people that can help me be successful on the field and ultimately help the Seahawks win.”