The 2009 season was the beginning of a new era for the Washington Huskies. Among the many things that head coach Steve Sarkisian brings to the table is a wealth of experience at the quarterback position.
Having been a quarterback at the college level himself, as well as his time spent coaching as an offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Sarkisian possesses a unique perspective on the offensive system.
His résumé with offenses is impressive, having coached two Heisman-winning quarterbacks during his tenure at USC.
Despite taking over head coaching duties for the first time in his career, Sarkisian kept role of offensive coordinator at Washington. There is no surprise that Steve has paid special attention to his quarterback, in this case the immensely talented but underdeveloped Jake Locker.
Going into the 2009 season, Locker was considered a pro prospect because of his amazing athletic ability, but there were some doubts that he could perform the job of quarterback at the next level. If taking over a 0-12 program was not enough, Sarkisian and his staff also dived right in to develop Jake’s skills as a traditional drop-back passer.
Locker had a reputation as an incredible runner with a strong, but inaccurate, arm. All the physical tools to be a pro quarterback appeared to be there, but the previous coaching staff had focused on using his running ability rather than developing him as a passer. This, in a lot of people’s eyes, led to his injury that kept him out of the majority of the 2008 season.
It was going to be up to this coaching staff to develop his passing skills.
The early results were impressive. Instead of running at the first sign of a breakdown in the line, which happened quite a bit during the 2009 season, Locker began to use his legs to buy more time for his receivers to get open.
After his first three games, Locker was averaging an impressive 60 percent completion percentage with five touchdowns and only one interception. The 60 percent mark was a goal set by Sarkisian at the beginning of the year.
With that quick start and the upset over the USC Trojans, Jake’s NFL stock went sky high. Many of the draft experts started to put him in the top 10 and possibly the first quarterback to be drafted if he chose to go pro after this year. The idea of all that athletic ability, and the quick response to the coaching of Sarkisian, made NFL scouts drool over the potential of the young man.
The 10 games since then, while still showing improvement in terms of accuracy over previous years at 55 percent, has also shown how far along Jake has to go. Throwing 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions is part of it.
The larger part is the indecision Jake has shown when the pocket collapses, sooner rather than later as the year went on, on whether he should use his legs for the first down or try to buy more time to complete a pass.
Buying more time to complete the pass does sound like a good idea, but it has also led to Jake showing his inexperience in reading defenses and forcing in some throws.
The frustrating part for Husky fans watching these games is that Locker will have open field in front of him, the kind of open field that would have led to a 20-yard run in years past, and he will not take off, choosing to instead wait for a receiver to throw to.
It has been a constant challenge for both the coaching staff and Locker to find the right balance. On one hand you want to keep the quarterback from taking the big shots that come from running the ball, but on the other hand you want to use his athletic ability to win football games.
It is clear that Locker is taking the coaching to heart, and his mindset is much more of a quarterback now than it was prior to the new staff.
The question is whether he will stick around another year to develop that balance and keep improving his passing skills, or take the NFL payday and let NFL coaches have their turn at molding him.
Being the exceptional athlete that he is, Jake has twice been drafted in the MLB draft and decided to stick with Washington and football both times. That may lead some to believe he plans on playing his full four years, as money hasn’t swayed him to leave before, but the opportunity to stay with football as well as go pro may be too much to pass up.
Regardless of Jake’s decision at the end of this season, the quarterback job might be in better hands than one would suspect.
Granted, backup Ronnie Fouch’s original appearance led to an uninspiring 45 percent completion percentage with only four touchdowns to 13 interceptions, filling in for the injured Locker in 2008.
The thing to consider is Fouch is a traditional drop-back style passer, and taking over the offense that was run in 2008 was not a good fit at all. In addition to being a true freshman with limited options, Fouch was not put in a position to succeed. The fact that No. 1 back Chris Polk was also out did not help take the pressure off of Ronnie.
The current offense Washington runs is much more to his style, and with a year to sit, watch, and learn from his coaches, there is optimism that the drop-off might not be as severe as speculated if Jake chooses to go pro.
Behind Fouch are two relative unknowns in Keith Price, who was a three-star recruit in the 2008 class, and Taylor Bean, who walked on the team during the 2007 season. Bolstering that depth, however, is a commitment from a player whose last name you might have heard once or twice: Montana.
Nick, the youngest son of Joe, is a four-star recruit and the headliner for Sarkisian’s 2010 class. A traditional drop-back passer, Montana looks to be an excellent fit for Sarkisian’s pro-style offense.
The starting job in 2010 is Jake Locker’s if he decides to return for his senior season. If he does decide to go pro, don’t expect Sarkisian to throw Montana out there as a true freshman. All signs are indicating that Sarkisian has faith in Fouch’s ability to run his offense, and that he will give Ronnie the chance to erase the painful memories from 2008 and craft a more positive legacy for himself.
Although most Washington fans feel Locker would benefit from another year at the college level, even if he goes to the NFL, the future at quarterback for Washington appears to be bright.