"He's most improved on his passing game," said defensive end Vic So'oto about Locker. "He doesn't rely on his feet as much as he used to. A lot of that is because of the scheme and with having Coach Sarkisian over there bringing in an offense where he can have the option to run or pass on any given play. He's just a better passer than he's been and that's noticeable."
"We know he can run and that he's fast and a big quarterback," said outside linebacker Jordan Pendleton. "Over the years since we've last played him, he's gotten a lot better at quarterback. He's more accurate with his passing and he's got the total package."
Last year Locker also rushed for 388 yards and seven touchdowns. He returns as the Pac-10's reigning leader in total offense with 3,188 total yards and 28 touchdowns.
"Oh, much respect to that guy right there," said defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. "He's definitely an awesome player who can run, and that's the first thing I've noticed about him on film. He doesn't do much cutting, but when he can run straight he's fast. That's what I'm worried about because they do a lot of draws and play action, a lot of stuff with him running like options and stuff like that, so that's what our main focus is and we've been doing a lot of scramble drills. Hopefully that will help prep us for next Saturday. All around, he's a good quarterback."
Going against the different Cougar quarterbacks and their unique attributes during practice has helped the defense prepare for Locker.
"With Jake Heaps, we get that pocket passer and he can sit back there and sling it," said Pendleton. "Jake Locker has that ability to sling the ball and has a strong arm. Then we have Riley Nelson who can drop back, and if he sees an opening he's going to find that hole and take off running. That's something that Locker can do as well, so by having both Jake and Riley back there has really helped our defense a lot in preparing for a quarterback like Jake Locker."
"Just bring the two [Heaps and Nelson] into one and that's what you have in Jake Locker," said Manumaleuna. "I think having both of those guys in camp will help prepare us for Locker."
However, as defensive end Vic So'oto is quick to point out, they can only simulate Locker so much.
"I don't think you can fully prepare for a guy like that," So'oto said. "What we have to do is make sure we do our job and not try and do someone else's job. I think that's a big part of being successful against someone like Jake Locker. You have to have all 11 guys doing their job that aren't trying to over-play or over-pursue someone like that. That's all you really can do is just focus on what you can do and what you can control rather than what you can't control. It comes back to being assignment-sound."
"I think a lot of responsibility is going to fall on our d-line containing [Locker] and not letting him get outside of the pocket," said linebacker Austen Jorgensen. "Once he gets outside, we do have linebackers that can help contain and keep our leverage. Getting good angles is going to be huge. The pursuit drills that you see us doing out here, that's preparing us for guys like Jake Locker and all the other quarterbacks that we're going to see this year."
Defending against the whims of Locker becomes a delicate balancing act.
"The main thing is getting the keys off of your responsibility. If I'm rushing and I get a short set [a short set is a reference to quick passes or draw schemes] then I'm not going to rush upfield as much. Maybe I'm going to squeeze back a bit and try and dent the pocket, because if you run upfield too far then you're going to create lanes [and] then there's nobody there to contain him. That's the biggest thing. You have to make sure you're getting your reads and making sure you're not rushing upfield when he's about to take off."
"You have to be careful or he'll take advantage of your mistakes," Jorgensen said. "It could come down to a d-end getting too far inside, or the nose guard not winning his front-side gap. Really, it's every guy just doing his assignment every play and getting that execution down, and then everybody's got to run to the ball."
Having faced nationally touted quarterbacks over the past few years, one thing is certain: the Cougars are excited about the challenge Husky quarterback Jake Locker will bring to the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium next Saturday.
"When ever you get a chance to play a player that is maybe being looked at as a first-round NFL draft player, like Sam Bradford from Oklahoma, obviously you get that sense of urgency," Pendleton said. "At the same time, this is our first game so there is a natural excitement just to get out there and play another opponent. It doesn't really matter who it is, we're just excited to go play."
"I think if I chase him down I might get drafted in the first round," So'oto said with a laugh. "That's my key to success, is being able to chase down Jake Locker. No, you have to take proper angles with someone that fast. With [Florida State's] Christian Ponder last year, it's a same type of guy. With the Air Force quarterbacks, there's some similar things there as well, so it's a good kickoff to the rest of the season."