MOBILE, Ala. — In the NFL, its often true that you must fail before you can even begin the process of success. Its especially true at the quarterback position, where the difference between greatness and forgotten mediocrity can be a chasm, separated by a few simple things.
For Washington quarterback Jake Locker, the process which may have made him a top-five pick in the 2010 draft because of his raw measurables took a few interesting turns after he decided to stay for a fifth season at Montlake.
Indoctrinated into a second year of Steve Sarkisians pro-style offense after far too long in the weird hybrid spread offense allegedly administered by Tyrone Willingham, Locker regressed in certain ways that were actually beneficial. The process of improvement frequently announces itself with mechanical breakdowns when Michael Jordan started building his body up in response to Detroits hack squad, he knew that the process was working because he fell into a slump as his body struggled to catch up with his new and larger palette.
The old and new Lockers fought on the field. There were times when it seemed Washington would benefit if he threw caution aside, run around and chuck the ball in true sandlot fashion. It was to Lockers benefit to hold him in the pocket and let him look bad while learning. Learning to hang in the pocket; learning to progress through his reads; learning to become a real NFL quarterback-in-waiting.
And while that process is very much a work in progress, beauty would arrive in unlikely moments an amazing run or a touch pass that defied description. You would see the Jake Locker that could be and wonder just how far that version stood from the Locker that is.
Now that hes completed his obligations to his university, his coach, and himself, Locker is trying to break through the next set of barriers and prove that he isnt a very raw example of basic mechanical perfection until he throws the ball. The first step is Senior Bowl week in Mobile, where Locker could put his skill set up against fellow North Team quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi of Iowa and Colin Kaepernick of Nevada.
And from the moments when he has taken the snap from under center to in the shotgun to the moments when he throws the ball, Locker has been by far the most pro-ready and practiced player at his position from a mechanical perspective.
His dropbacks have been smooth, with the correct amount of bounce on his back step to get the ball out right. His mobility was expected his speed is matched by his tremendous escapability to provide a very difficult challenge for any defender trying to bring him down. And his footwork in short spaces shows the positive effects of Sarkisian tutelage.
Where things can fall apart occasionally is the moment Locker releases the ball. The head-scratching decisions, leading to inexplicable interceptions and head-scratching incompletions, have been very much in effect. As it has been through his collegiate career, the whole picture comes together once in a great while. When it does, you wonder how an NFL team can avoid taking Locker early in the first round of the NFL draft.
At other times, you will wonder is there any way he could possibly have one more year under Sarkisian?
On Monday, Locker tried to tell Sportspress Northwest what that 2010 season meant to him. I cant really put it into words (but those were) memories and things Ill hold onto my entire life. It was an awesome experience, and one I wouldnt trade for anything. (Coach Sark) meant a lot to me, as a player and as a person mentored me on and off the field and helped me to grow in both aspects.
And what is he trying to prove in Mobile and beyond? My competitive nature, that Im a coachable guy, and that Im always improving.
Hes done enough so far for the NFL to take notice. Locker has displayed development in accuracy from day to day through the practice week and caught the attention of at least two specific teams (the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings). Both wanted to talk to him right after his Tuesday morning practice. If he can keep that thread going, Locker could very well be a top 10 pick.
The difference between this year and last is the draft position Locker hears will be based on what has been, not what may someday be. Lockers decision to stay in school made sense for more than just one Holiday Bowl win and a big boost for the Huskies program; its the kind of decision that could really show up a few years down the road. During days when Locker not only has what it takes to succeed in the NFL, but is able to show it more than once in a while.
Senior Bowl week is the first major step, but Locker was smart enough to take that extra year and find the real Ground Zero on his own.
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