Locker's development comes with a price

SEATTLE - Looking back on Marques Tuiasosopo's brilliant 1999 performance against Stanford - where he became the first Division-1 football player to run for 200 yards and throw for 300 in the same game, you can't help but see a lot of that today in current Husky QB Jake Locker.

If there was ever another Washington quarterback capable of duplicating such an incredible feat, it would be Montlake Jake. Locker has Marques' arm - and then some. He has Marques' feet, and then some. And he has Marques' trademark heart and warrior-like mentality to get the job done at whatever cost to his own well-being. Maybe too much so. Marques achieved his massive feat during his third year in the program, at a time when the Washington Huskies were building up to a 2000 Rose Bowl run that would eventually find themselves No. 3 in the final polls for that season.

Locker is in his second year as a Husky, and his team is looking to find a vacancy anywhere during the 2007 bowl season. But man oh man, can't you just see the promise? When he tucks it to run, you hold your breath. When he launches a pass high into the California night - like he did last Saturday against UCLA - you can't help but smile a little bit thinking about what the future holds for such a talent.

But for right now, it's all about accelerating the learning curve. And that learning curve comes at a price. It can be a physical one - in terms of hits to his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame. It can be mental - in terms of understanding not only where to throw the ball, but when to do it, and how. And when things don't come easy to a player that isn't accustomed to losing at any level, it comes as a shock.

"I haven't felt any pressure to carry the offense," Locker said Monday. "We have a lot of weapons at every position, and it's my job to get the ball in those guys' hands and let them make the plays.

"When we may not be playing well or guys aren't making plays or putting drives together, I feel like there's that drive in a lot of players on this team that want to make a play, that can go out on any drive and try to do something spectacular to pick the team up. I don't feel like I'm the only one that has that urge. When we're on the field, we have a lot of guys that have that feeling to get something going to pick us up."

Anthony Russo is one of those weapons. He had five catches for 106 yards and two fourth-quarter scores to keep the Huskies in it against UCLA. "That last quarter really propelled the pass game and gave us confidence," Locker said. "We moved the ball well. But as to the rest of it, we just were not very good at all."

If Locker had his way, however - he'd be making those throws earlier in the game, as opposed to when the game was nearly out of reach. "There's no excuse," he said. "I was crazy with my feet a couple of times, and I haven't had a problem with that the last couple of weeks."

But it's the physical toll that have the coaches on watch at all times. With a playmaker like Locker - much as was the case with Tuiasosopo - they can live with the occasional blunder if it doesn't take away from his aggressiveness and playmaking ability. They don't like it, but they can live with it. What they can't live with is seeing him on the sidelines with an injury - especially if it could have been avoided.

"I'm learning as the games go on that it's easier on me if I slide or at least get down, and don't take any big hits," Locker admitted. "I definitely need to start doing it."

"I think he's at the point where he's starting to believe me (about hits)," Lappano said on Tuesday, with a bit of a fatherly wry smile on his face. "You know, I joke with him, but this isn't the (Northwest) League anymore."

The learning curve will be ramped up in a big way this weekend, as No. 1 USC comes calling. Isaiah Stanback had a nice day against the Trojans last year, and Lappano is hopeful Locker can recreate some of the things Stanback was able to do.

"When you play this team, you can't make mistakes," Lappano said of USC. "You can't turn the football over, you can't give up plays on special teams, you can't throw interceptions for touchdowns...you have to be on top of your game."

"They have a lot of talented players," Locker added. "They are fast and physical - probably going to be similar to what we saw against Ohio State."

And the Huskies were able to move the ball against the Buckeyes - they just weren't able to pounce on opportunities in the red zone when they were given. "If you're fortunate enough to get down there, you have to cash in with touchdowns, and not field goals," Lappano said. "You have to be aggressive with these guys. You can't be scared and you can't play on your heels."

And while the learning curve might be as steep as Seventh Heaven at Stevens Pass, there's one thing Lappano will never have to worry about with Locker - his aggressiveness.

Or fear, for that matter. But will the on-the-job training come at a price that will cause the coaches to suffer a bout of sticker shock at the end of the season?

Not if Jake is, well .... Jake. And that's the best thing he has going for him.

Dawgman.com Top Stories