Jake Locker, Back where it all started

Published on April 20, 2011 by     Seahawks.Com News (Feed)

Jake Locker will spend his draft day not in New York City, but at home in Ferndale so the University of Washington QB can share the experience with those closest to him.

Jake Locker has been invited to join the festivities in New York City next week for the NFL draft.

But the quarterback from the University of Washington is passing on the opportunity, which just makes so much sense after Locker first decided to “stay home” to play his college ball and then returned to the Huskies for his senior season when the NFL was beckoning a year ago.

2011 DRAFT: QUARTERBACKS
A look at the position heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projection by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

Rank Player, School Projection
1/10 Blaine Gabbert, Missouri First Round
2/11 Cam Newton, Auburn First Round
3/23 Jake Locker, Washington First/Second Round
4/31 Christian Ponder, Florida St. First/Second Round
5/42 Ryan Mallett, Arkansas First/Second Round
What’s it all means?So many in need, so few obvious answers. That’s the QB quandary this year, with as many as 11 teams looking to upgrade the most important position in any sport. The Panthers (No. 1 overall pick), Bills (3), Bengals (4), Cardinals (5), 49ers (7), Titans (8), Redskins (10), Vikings (12), Jaguars (16), Seahawks (25) and Raiders (48) all have needs that range from desperate to improving depth to developing a starter. It could set off a situation where teams reach to get their QB in the top half of the first round or, more likely, attempt to trade back into the lower part of the round.

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So while several other players in this year’s draft class will be playing the waiting game at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, Locker will be with family and friends in Ferndale.

“I want to be with the people that have been with me my whole life and helped me get to this point,” Locker said after his Pro Day workout at Washington. “I want to share that experience with them, and not all of them would be able to come to New York with me.

“So for me, it makes sense to be at home where I grew up and where this all started.”

Just like it made sense for Locker to commit to the Huskies when there were other options, including playing professional baseball. Just like it made sense for him to return for the 2010 UW season when he could have walked away for the riches of the NFL.

“As a player and as a person, I’m a lot more prepared for this process,” Locker said at the NFL scouting combine in February. “I don’t think I would have been as prepared for it last year. I just feel a lot better after having another year playing with the coaches that I did and in the system I did.

“So I’m very thankful for that.”

Locker’s time with the Huskies included the good (a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska last season) and the not-so-good (that 0-12 season in 2008).

“It wasn’t the easiest career for me at Washington. We had to go through a lot of adversity,” he said. “So to be able to finish like we did, and come out with the Holiday Bowl victory, those are things I’m very proud of and I think that our football team should be very proud of. It’s fun to be a part of and it’s very rewarding.”

No regrets. No looking back. Just a fine focus on the task at hand. That has been Locker throughout the tedious process that leads up to the draft. He did not perform as well as expected during the Senior Bowl practices in January. He was not as accurate as he needed to be at the combine.

But Locker never got down. Instead, he concentrated on getting better. The proof was in his passing at the Pro Day workout in late March.

“I felt like I was able to improve on my combine performance and be a little more consistent and a little more fluid,” he said after completing 38 of 40 passes as representatives from 17 NFL teams scrutinized every twitch of his right arm and each shuffle of his feet.

“I was very happy with what I did today.”

So where those in attendance, which included several generations of UW quarterbacks – Warren Moon, Cary Conklin, Sonny Sixkiller, Hugh Millen and Damon and Brock Huard.

Offered Keith Gilbertson, a former coach for the Huskies and Seahawks who is now a special assistant with theCleveland Browns: “I think every time he throws, he throws better. The work he’s done from the end of the season to the all-star game and the combine, he’s thrown better.”

Said Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com: “If I had to give him a grade, I’d give it a B-plus, A-minus. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at a couple of Pro Days where Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez have really legitimized themselves and really pushed up their stock. I wouldn’t say this was that good, but that’s comparing it to two players who absolutely skyrocketed (up the draft charts) after their Pro Days.”

When it comes time for some team to select Locker at some point in the first round – or rounds – of the draft, it will be the little things he has been working on that pay big dividends.

“I’m focusing on the fluidity of the drop, getting my feet in the right spot and just bringing my hand over the top as quickly as I could, rather than dragging my hand,” Locker said. “I have a tendency to do that sometimes. I want to bring my hand over the top and really point that finger at my target. I have been spinning the ball a lot better and it’s been coming off my hand a lot better.”

Locker also realizes the supply-and-demand aspect of his position in this draft. There are as many as 11 teams looking for a QB, with only Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert considered Top 15 prospects. Then it’s Locker, Florida State’s Christian Ponder, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and even TCU’s Andy Dalton – with the order depending on the team.

“I believe this is a really good year to be a quarterback,” Locker said. “There are a good number of teams that will be looking at quarterbacks to draft, so it’s a good year to come out and showcase what you can do and what you could bring to an organization.”

Or as ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay put it, “There are a lot of good quarterbacks in this class but not many great ones. I think when you start to look at it, there’s Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, then there’s a drop off. Then it’s kind of ‘pick you poison.’ ”

The fluidity of Locker’s draft stock has played out on Mel Kiper’s “Big Board” for ESPN.com. Locker is back in at No. 25 on the latest listing, after having fallen off the board compiled by the longtime draft analyst. Said Kiper, “It seems more clear as the draft approaches that it’ll be difficult for some team not to be wooed by his potential in Round 1.”

While Locker’s accuracy has been a major topic of discussion, no one questions his athletic ability. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.52 seconds at the combine, where he also had a 35-inch vertical leap. Many of his best plays for the Huskies were what former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox called “impromptu plays” – coming as Locker broke from the pocket and used his feet as much as his arm.

But it was during the team interview sessions at the combine – and subsequent one-on-one meetings with teams at their facilities – where Locker scored even better. His pure love of the game and appreciation to still be playing it definitely come across.

“I’m a fan of this game, and I always have been,” Locker said. “So to be a part of this process that I enjoyed watching so much as a kid, it’s a cool opportunity – one that I’m not going to let slip through my hands. It’s something I’m trying to enjoy and have fun with. Because there are a lot of people who would like to be in this position, so I don’t want to dread it or make it seem like I have to do it.

“This is something I get to do. It’s a privilege and something I’m really excited about.”

2011 Draft: Quarterbacks

A look at the position heading into the April 28-30 NFL Draft (position and overall rankings and projection by Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com):

 

Rank Player, School Ht. Wt. Projection
1/10 Blaine Gabbert, Missouri 6-4 234 First Round
2/11 Cam Newton, Auburn 6-3 248 First Round
3/23 Jake Locker, Washington 6-3 231 First/Second Round
4/31 Christian Ponder, Florida St. 6-2 229 First/Second Round
5/42 Ryan Mallett, Arkansas 6-7 253 First/Second Round

What’s it all means? So many in need, so few obvious answers. That’s the QB quandary this year, with as many as 11 teams looking to upgrade the most important position in any sport. The Panthers (No. 1 overall pick), Bills (3), Bengals (4), Cardinals (5), 49ers (7), Titans (8), Redskins (10), Vikings (12), Jaguars (16), Seahawks (25) and Raiders (48) all have needs that range from desperate to improving depth to developing a starter. It could set off a situation where teams reach to get their QB in the top half of the first round or, more likely, attempt to trade back into the lower part of the round.

What about? Newton. The Heisman Trophy winner could go as high as first overall to the Panthers, but he also could become a victim of paralysis by over-analysis. There’s a lot to like to about Newton, but there also are a lot of questions concerning his accuracy and maturity. But Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ first-year coach and former NFL QB, came away from Newton’s Pro Day workout sounding convinced. “That’s plutonium-grade raw material right there,” Harbaugh said. “He’s as good as anybody who probably came out in 10 years.” Now that is saying a lot, because that past-decade group includes the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Falcons’ Matt Ryan, Chargers’ Philip Rivers, Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals’ Carson Palmer, Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman and Rams’ Sam Bradford.

What’s up with? Andy Dalton. The TCU passer is Rang’s No. 7 QB, and 63rd-ranked player overall. He also draws high marks for the quickness of his setup and release, as well as his smarts. It’s a package that helps Dalton compensate for his lack of prototypical stature (6-2, 213) and the fact that he played in a spread offense. The term that keeps popping up with Dalton as teams continue their evaluations is “NFL ready.”

Seahawks situation? The last two quarterbacks the Seahawks drafted were Mike Teel (fifth round, 2009) and David Greene (third round, 2005). Neither was the answer; long term or short. But it didn’t matter, because Matt Hasselbeck was the entrenched starter and had three 16-start seasons from 2003-07. But Hasselbeck will become an unrestricted free agent – whenever free agency begins. Even if the club re-signs him, it still must address the future because Hasselbeck turns 36 in September and has missed 13 games the past three seasons with an assortment of injuries. Backup Charlie Whitehurst is signed through the 2011 season, but he got only two starts last season after being acquired in an offseason trade with the Chargers. Besides, as general manager John Schneider puts it, “We’re always going to be trying to find guys to compete at that position.”

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