Five days in Mobile: What’s at stake for Jake

Jan 25, 2011, 8:00 AM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Brock Huard

Five days in Mobile kind of sounds like a country song, and for a country music aficionado like Jake Locker, he better hope this country song has a happy ending. He has five more days to prove to his future employer that he is worthy of a first round pick.

Day one in Mobile was a mixed bag.

I watched all 90 minutes of the NFL Network’s coverage of the Senior Bowl practice and it was very much a microcosm of Jake’s career at Washington. There were spectacular throws that showcase the very high ceiling of Jake’s talent, yet there were overthrows and costly misses that make you question his innate accuracy. There were throws on the move that were effortless, yet there were simple check-downs to outlet receivers with little finesse. It was a mixed bag, a bit inconsistent, and when Mike Mayock was asked point blank at the end of practice what he thought of Locker, the answer is exactly what Locker and his agent don’t want to hear at this week’s end: “erratic.”

In my opinion, Jake has three critical areas this week where he must showcase his upside and quiet the critics:

1. Throw with precision in the pocket. In today’s NFL, with all of the diverse blitz packages, exotic fronts and multiple schemes defensive coordinators throw at the QB, it is essential for the triggerman to get the ball out of his hands quickly and precisely. There is not a scout in the league that will question Locker’s ability to throw and improvise outside of the tackle box, but inside the pocket his touch, timing and accuracy must grow. Personal workouts, the combine in February and interviews will do nothing to change scouts or coaches’ minds and stats. The best and only way from now until April’s draft to change perception is this week in Mobile with every throw in 7-on-7, 1-on-1 and team drills.

2. Feel and pocket presence. I chatted with University of Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier on Monday and he really hopes “Jake can showcase his ability to handle the route progressions and reads from the pocket.” Like the accuracy conversation above, when Jake is outside the pocket his instincts are fine, it is within the pocket he must manage his mind and movement. This is the quality that separates the two quarterbacks playing in the Super Bowl from the rest. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger have an awareness and sense of timing that cannot be taught. David Carr and Alex Smith do not. There will be some very difficult film in this regard for Jake to overcome, but once again, these next five days will be his best opportunity to make a case the other way.

3. Command. This is all encompassing. It is command of the fastball, command of the huddle, command of the media, and command of the coaches’ meetings. It is command of a playbook in five days and command of new teammates. It is Philip Rivers, not Jay Cutler. It is a take charge confidence and mentality represented by unwavering body language. This should be a strength of Jake’s and he must dominate the field with his presence and belief in himself.

Everyone continues to talk about the millions of dollars Jake left on the table last year with his decision to return to school. I really believe these five days could be the difference between Jake climbing back into the Top 10 conversation or falling late into the first or early second round. Thus, millions are still on the line, as last year’s number 10 pick signed a five year, $28 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed. The 30th pick, Jahvid Best of Cal, inked a five year, $9.8 million deal with $7.1 million guaranteed.

If the accuracy steadies and the erratic play diminishes, Jake Locker will be the buzz of the Senior Bowl. Jake has the attention of the 500+ NFL evaluators on hand, now he has to deliver on target and on time.

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Five days in Mobile: What’s at stake for Jake