Sunday, December 23, 2007

Modern Day Rushing QB - Sets Record

Locker has chance to be better than Heisman winner

By Blaine Newnham
Special to The Seattle Times

In the wake of Tim Tebow's winning of the Heisman Trophy, fans in Florida are sure that Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas. And not the other way around.

Is there anything this quarterback of the future can't do?

Possessor of a linebacker's mentality with stunning speed and a strong arm, Tebow was an easy choice to win the Heisman even as a sophomore, the first in history to do so.

He was also the first player to both run and throw for more than 20 touchdowns.

But I wonder if in a few years Washington's Jake Locker might be better.

The descriptions are striking similar. Both are 6 feet 3, 235 pounds, chiseled, courageous, charismatic.

Clearly, Tebow at this point plays on a better team and is a much, much more accomplished passer. He threw for 3,122 yards — completing 60 percent of his passes — while Locker threw for 2,062 yards and completed only 47 percent.

While Locker ran for more yards, the key for any quarterback is to stay healthy. The spread formation in which Tebow and Locker operate — as did Oregon's wily Dennis Dixon until he was hurt — puts the quarterback at great risk.

[Editor's Note: Locker, a redshirt freshman from Ferndale, established a modern Pac-10 record for most yards rushing in a season by a quarterback with 986. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns. He also passed for 2,062 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was intercepted 15 times and completed 47 percent of his passes. He was named Pac-10 freshman of the year in voting by the conference's coaches.]

It may take Superman to survive, or at least a quarterback who knows when not to fight for an extra yard in the interest of playing another down.

I'm old enough to remember the single wing, to remember Billy Kilmer at UCLA weaving his way down the field. Happy days are here again.

Today's running-throwing quarterbacks are better than the veer option quarterbacks of the '70s who relied almost exclusively on quick feet. They were just average passers who threw only when they had to.

Locker must perfect his passing, to make the long pass when the defense invites him to, to be as much a threat with his arm as he is with his feet.

But if he does, he could be better than Tebow because he is faster than Tebow and may have a stronger arm. Tebow's 40-yard time is listed as 4.5 to 4.6. Locker is 4.4 to 4.5.

Seven of the eight Heisman Trophy winners before Tebow had played in the national-championship game. Tebow didn't as Florida stumbled to a disappointing (for it) 9-3. Tebow didn't go unrecognized, and Locker wouldn't if Washington were to climb back into national-championship consideration.

While it's clear that Locker was Tyrone Willingham's job-saving recruit, don't overlook the recent commitment of Lakes tight end Kavario Middleton, the state's top-rated high-school senior.

It reminded me of when Don James recruited Mark Bruener, a tight end from Aberdeen who seriously considered Notre Dame, USC and Stanford before staying home.

Bruener, now with the Houston Texans, caught a touchdown pass in the 1992 Rose Bowl as a just-out-of-high-school freshman. He played in the Super Bowl as a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he toiled for 10 years.

An impressive thing about Bruener is that he routinely donates money to the UW athletic department. He went out of his way to visit the Huskies in the Bay Area before their game with Stanford.

"I wanted to meet with coach Willingham and I wanted to talk to the team," said Bruener.

Bruener said his choice to play at Washington was an easy one.

He said he knew what he was getting from Don James, and said he believes today's recruits should feel the same about Willingham.

"I'd heard a lot from other NFL players about him, and wanted to meet him," said Bruener. "I realized almost immediately what a great person and coach he is. I see the similarities with coach James, the quiet confidence and the requirement that the players and coaches be accountable."

Bruener said he would like to see the time when the best players in the state routinely stay home as he did.

"With such a great university and a great football tradition," he said, "there is no reason to go anywhere else.

"But you need stability in the coaching staff. I had it at Washington and with the Steelers, where they had had two coaches in 50 years."

The words of not only a former player, but of a current donor to the program. Words of wisdom.

The Seattle Times

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