BY Doug Farrar 11:16AM 03/29/2011

Locker with much to prove at pro day

It’s Jake Locker’s last pre-draft chance to impress the entire NFL.

Jake Locker, shown here dropping back during Friday walkthroughs, had an iffy Senior Bowl week that reflected his inconsistent Washington career. (Doug Farrar/Sportspress Northwest)

There are still people who will tell you that Jake Locker blew it by not declaring for the 2010 NFL draft. By sticking around for his senior season at Montlake, some will say, the Washington legend sacrificed the chance to be selected in the top 10 of that draft, if not first overall.

Here’s the problem with that theory – when Locker walked into Steve Sarkisian’s office in December of 2009 to re-up for the Huskies, it was at least a month before the season of serious tape analysis began. A sub-sport that doesn’t really start until after every Super Bowl, the game-tape marathons run by every serious draft guru – not to mention the due diligence done by every NFL team – would have almost certainly taken Locker to at least the bottom of the first round (where he seems to reside in most mock drafts these days), if not lower.

The things that impress about Locker at first glance – the incredible mobility, the ability to throw on the run, the leadership, the NFL-ready mechanics in many regards – would have eventually been waylaid by Locker’s inability to throw consistently from the pocket, as well as a series of seriously head-scratching decisions under pressure.

Not to say that Locker is terrible now or was so then, but the developmental grade that must come to every quarterback had Locker on a pretty shallow curve before the 2010 draft. Now that people have seen more of the elephant, so to speak, they know what he really is. A tremendously gifted player with undeniable potential and serious issues that must be solved before his NFL potential will ever be seen at its highest point.

Those who have seen the most believe the most, starting with Sarkisian.

“He is a sophomore coming out early going into the NFL draft,” the coach said. “He’s had two years in a pro-style offense, of learning the nuances of this thing, to the drops to the protections, to the coverages, to the route recognition to the reading, to the things that all have to take place … the fundamentals that it takes. So, to me, his upside is huge.

“Whoever gets him is going to get a player that is going to continue to develop and is going to work at it. And they are going to get somebody who is a tremendous leader, not only on the field but off the field in the community, which matters — and somebody who is going to be mature enough to step into a huddle with a 10-, 12-, 13-, 14-year NFL veteran and call the play with conviction and execute a play. Especially late in games.

“I think so much with Jake that got missed while he was here, for us, if you look at the way he performed in the fourth quarter, especially in final drives over the last two years, those were special plays and special drives that he had. And when you watch the NFL on Sunday, how many times (do) games come down to that final drive? And he’s got that ability to make plays on that final drive, which ultimately win games, ultimately win playoff games and ultimately win Super Bowls. I think that’s why he’s going to be special down the road.”

Down the road? There is most definitely a chance for that to happen. But even Sarkisian must couch his enthusiasm in the reality that followed Locker through an uneven Senior Bowl, to a slightly better scouting combine, to the pro day that will further define and cement his pre-draft stock.

This is a brilliant athlete, trying to become a quarterback. No more, no less.

At his pro day on Wednesday in Washington’s Dempsey Indoor Locker will have the chance to show a few things, but the game tape he left in the vaults will still be the ultimate arbiter. Pro days are heavily scripted throwing sessions in which players generally throw to receivers they’re used to, do so in shorts and t-shirts, and face no defensive pressure.

That said, the primary thing he’ll need to display is an unimpeachable ability to throw while standing still. Sounds funny if you’re talking about your average immobile quarterback, but Locker still plays and thinks very much like a spread offense player at times in that he throws much better on the run, rolling out, and cutting the field in half so that he doesn’t have to make multiple reads. He’ll need to progress quickly through those right-to-left reads, and get rid of the ball quickly and decisively.

In addition, the real pressure on Locker will be to insure that everything which has impressed people about him in the past is on full display. His mechanics from snap to throw must be impeccable, his three- five- and seven-step drops must be right on the money from a timing perspective, and the bounce-back to throw must give him the stance to deliver the ball as cleanly as possible.

Furthermore, his accuracy must be on point. Even those who have denigrated him for his lack of throwing accuracy in the past will generally give him a relative pass in terms of the talent around him – after all, it won’t be until running back Chris Polk enters the 2012 draft that Locker will have thrown to anyone draftable in his college career. But in a favorable situation, with no pressure around him, Locker will have to rival Sam Bradford’s 49-of-50 completion percentage at his pro day in 2010 – the one that helped make Bradford the first overall pick in last year’s  NFL Draft.

It’s too late for Locker to get in on that action; he’s got at least two quarterbacks in Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton ahead of him in this draft class. But if he wants to put himself solidly in the third slot, this is his last opportunity in which every team in the NFL will see him throw in the same place.

No pressure, Jake – it’s just the first day of the rest of your life.


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