Q&A - Hugh Millen

SEATTLE - Chris Fetters of Dawgman.com spoke Thursday night with Hugh Millen, former Washington quarterback who is also one of the 'Husky Honks' with former UW coach Dick Baird and Dave 'Softy' Mahler on KJR-950 AM. Millen has been following the state of UW's signal-callers for a number of years now, and he was at UW's informal workout to watch the QB's do their thing.

He was kind enough to answer some questions about the state of the UW QB scene.

Dawgman.com: What have you seen over the summer and their improvement and the strides they've made since the end of spring?

Hugh Millen: I think there's a real good attitude. I sense that there's more camaraderie on the team. Jake (Locker) is the unquestioned leader and he's the one spearheading all this. The turnout was really incredible. Even in the height of the Don James era, you wouldn't see numbers like this. So I think it's really impressive. There's good competition. There's some woofin' out here. The skill level is raised, so they are really pushing each other. Wide receivers look quicker coming out of breaks, they can accelerate…DB's can cover better. I think the talent level is rising.

As far as the quarterbacks, the more I've looked at the position, the skills are important - but the understanding is so much more important. To be in the second year of the system is really the most important thing, and it's something a lot of us have been saying all through last year…just wait until they get another year in the system. Nick Montana's arm has gotten noticeably stronger since even last summer when he played Skyline High School. He has natural-born accuracy and that's easy to say because of his Dad (Joe), but I'd have that opinion even if his name were Smith. His goal is just to learn anticipation. And he will. He's a guy that should have just gotten out of high school. But it's a feel for the game. Anticipation is going to be his goal.

Keith Price, his anticipation - I think - has improved. I think he has a sense of…I think you can tell that he's played an extra year of college football. In that regard, he's probably that much further along. His consistency and his release and his mechanics…everything has to time out in the passing motion. It's a series of levers: You have weight transfer, your hips come through; then your shoulder is an arc, your tricep is a lever; then your wrist…all of this has to come down in a sequence. And sometimes you can see that the sequence just doesn't quite time up. The consistency of his mechanics is probably his challenge. He's come a long way in terms of his understanding of anticipation and what he's got to do.

All of them are naturally going to be better because they are in the second year of the system. You see a couple of times where there are miscues where guys aren't sure of an angle. For example, the corner route; you could write a whole book on the corner route itself. I could talk for an hour about the different coaches I've been with and what the philosophy of the corner route is and what your depth should be and what angle should you come out at…should you take a high angle toward the end zone? Should you break it flat? Should you come back to the ball? There are all kinds of…even as I'm talking I'm flashing back to all the seminars I heard from guys like Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner about the corner route.

So there were a couple of times where there were miscues on the corner route. And that's to be expected; it's one of the real bugaboos in the passing game. So there has to be really strict standards and an understanding of how that corner route is going to play out. The quarterback has got to get it off in one hitch, no more than that…so you might see a guy out here take a couple of hitches because they are still working on that timing.

DM.C: So does all that fall under the idea of building chemistry?

Millen: It's chemistry with each individual, but it's also a precise understanding of what's expected of them in the route. So they are farther along than they were a year ago, but it's the second year in the system - not the fifth. So there are still some signs of it being that - the second year. So they are out here just trying to get that timing down.

As for Jake…

DM.C: A lot of people forget that this is really also the second year for Jake too, even though he's a fifth-year senior. But is it true that the biggest gains are made from year one to year two?

Millen: There's no doubt. Jake's going to be a fifth-year senior, he's going to be the best player in the conference - Andrew Luck notwithstanding. He should just have a monster year. His understanding, his confidence…not that he's ever really lacked for confidence, because as you know, I've always thought the world of Jake. I've been as staunch a supporter of him as anybody. When people were talking about moving him, you heard me…this is absurd. I'm way over the top for Jake Locker.

His challenge is his footwork on his drops. Balance is a big part of accuracy. In fact, I think it's the most important thing. If you've played the position and watching Troy Aikman's feet…and Troy's a big, 6-foot-4 guy…he always has his feet underneath him. He was fast, but if you follow a plane down your shoulders, there's certain parts of your drop where you don't want your feet outside your shoulders. The last two steps of the drop, for example…you can't be worried about depth or speed. Those are the steps where you want to worry about your balance. That way when you come off, you can throw with no hitches. Or you can throw with one hitch. You don't have to take two hitches to get on balance.

DM.C: Or reset, or anything like that.

Millen: Yeah. So you can move quickly and you don't have to take a long time to be on balance to throw. Everything can be fine if you're throwing to your primary receiver, but what happens if a rusher makes you move from side to side? Or what happens if you have to go to your second or your third guy? You have to be on balance.

So those are the things where Jake is still progressing as a quarterback and improving as a quarterback. And anticipation is something that he's always been working on, and he's gotten a lot better. I anticipate he'll keep getting better. If you talk to Jake five years from now - when he's a Pro Bowl quarterback - and you were to ask Jake how he's improved in those five years since you were a redshirt senior at Washington, he will tell you that my anticipation is better.

And that's a function of another year in the system, but it's the second year - not the fifth year. But physically - I don't think I've ever seen a quarterback fill out a shirt like he fills out his shirt. He is just a man.

DM.C: Which is funny because when he comes out here, he isn't wearing a shirt.

Millen: He's just so broad across the chest, and with the fast-twitch fibers that I've been talking about…he's a modest guy, but I pulled it out of him that he had a 340-yard drive on the golf course…his hips are so fast, and all his movements are so sudden for a man his size. You would not want to get into a bar fight with Jake Locker.

DM.C: And the scary thing is, it's almost been that way for him since high school.

Millen: To have his type of quickness…you can see signs of his mechanics…the way he bends his wrist…his wrist is in the follow-through position to the maximum his body will allow. He's conditioned himself to do that. That's not something you saw from him when he first got to Washington.

And that allows him to spin (the football) as much as possible?

Yeah. And again, talking about how everything has to time up on the release, the last thing that have to fire are the fingers. And evidence of that is where your wrist and fingers are on your follow-through. And you can see that he's now disciplined and he's holding that follow-through. And I didn't notice that from him prior to Sark's (Steve Sarkisan's) arrival.

He's made so many leaps…those years that he was with (Tyrone) Willingham…those were some wasted years. Because he came in here as an option quarterback who ran the wing, or whatever he ran up in Ferndale…he didn't play in any bowl games. So there's 20 practices he lost right there. He wasn't getting any coaching.

DM.C: In hindsight, you can see now that they were trying to fit an offense around what he had already done well, instead of fixing things and moving him into a proper offense that could develop him for the next level.

Millen: Well, Sark and Nuss (Doug Nussmeier) came in and they brought in a system that is a pro system. They said, 'We're going to make you into a pro quarterback, because that's what we do. That's our system. We're a pro-style team, and we plan on putting guys in the NFL. We plan on being successful at the collegiate level.

What does a pro system mean? That means, by your personnel groupings and your formations, you are a threat in the passing game. You want to be balanced in the passing game. You are going to be proficient hitting the tight end over the middle; you're going to get into slot formations and you're going to be able to hit the slot; you're going to be able to stretch the field outside - you're going to have comebacks, if you're in trips and they want to leave a single on the x, or the single receiver side, you're going to wear somebody out on that side; you're going to be able to check down and have a comprehensive screen game. We're going to take a defensive coordinator and say to them: When I go up against Washington and I'm preparing for them, I'm preparing for a quarterback that can stretch the field; can get rid of the ball with timing; can not take sacks. They can play with anticipation and precision, and as such are a bona fide threat every time in all aspects of the passing game.

And that's what a pro system is. And from that, then you can run downhill, because a defensive coordinator has all these threats, and then the play-action game comes alive. And of course they'll do the read zone and do some things with Jake. But at the college level, you see these guys that are capable of running the ball like Jake, but they aren't presenting a real sophisticated pass offense at 'em. They can do some things here and there, but they aren't truly stretching you, and you can game plan and take some things away.

But you take Jake's uncompromised skill-set…I believe that Jake Locker is the greatest athlete to ever come out of the state of Washington. I say that because, look what he does in baseball. How many positions does he play in baseball? And I think he could play at least six positions at the Pac-10 level: Obviously quarterback; I think he could play tight end; if he had to he could play receiver; he could be a big running back; he could play fullback; he could play safety; he could play linebacker. If it was his heart's desire to be a defensive end, I think he could be a defensive end. He could be a cover-two corner and jam and be physical…now I don't know if he would necessarily be quick enough…

DM.C: That's a scary thought.

Millen: But he's so quick, he could be a physical corner. He might not be Champ Bailey, but he could play corner in the Pac-10 in the right scheme - in a cloud scheme. So somebody email me…if you've got somebody who is a better athlete…I think he's the best athlete that's ever come from out of this state. His ability to run the ball…I think he's the second-greatest running quarterback I've ever seen at a high level, next to Michael Vick. If you said somebody else, like a Randall Cunningham or Steve Young or whomever, I'll tell you that Jake is either faster, stronger or both. He's faster than Donovan McNabb. He's faster than Randall Cunningham…he's a lot stronger than Randall Cunningham. So just give me the list…he's the best athlete to ever come out of this state. I truly don't think the rest of my life I'll see somebody like this kid.

DM.C: And it's scary to think about his upside.

Millen: I think, 30 years from now, somebody will ask - who is the best athlete you've ever seen at Washington - and I'll say Jake Locker. It's going to be so much fun to watch this year, to take a guy that has the physical skills and is humble and is a leader - now you put him in the second year with the confidence…I just hope they can protect him a little bit and let him go…

DM.C: I wanted to get your thoughts on Jake and the ESPN 'Car Wash'…

Millen: He would not have done that if it was just about Jake Locker. They said look, this is good for the University of Washington. As soon as you tell him that it's good for the University of Washington, he's all in. If this was just about a Jake Locker Heisman campaign, he wants no part of that. It's just not how he's wired. Look at LeBron James and what he did…if you are going to be a guy who is the No. 1 overall pick like McShay and Kiper predicted - you are a national sports figure. If you are the No. 1 overall pick as a quarterback…and he walks into the offices wearing his flip-flops and has his dog on a leash…"Oh, by the way, I'm not going anywhere. I'm coming back."… He's just too humble.

So my thought on that is, he was doing it for the sake of promoting Washington. And I hope the team plays well enough around him that he can be a viable candidate and he can get that invitation to New York.

DM.C: It's interesting to think of the possibilities, because you can see glimpses of it right now…

Millen: There was a time when the Huskies were 6-9 over their last 15 games, and then from that point on they ripped off 7 of 8. That was in 1977, when they started out 1-3. They had been 5-6 the year before…they started out 1-3, and then they ripped off an incredible Pac-8 season and went to the Rose Bowl. I'm not saying they are going to the Rose Bowl, but…

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