Dec. 10, 2009
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE -- Who needs Mel Kiper Jr. when there's Steve Sarkisian?
Jake Locker, whom some experts think would be the first quarterback taken if he enters April's NFL draft, has an advantage Jimmy Clausen didn't have at Notre Dame and Sam Bradford didn't have at Oklahoma when those fellow star passers recently made their decisions to forego senior seasons.
Washington's junior has a coach who, though only 35, is something of an expert on the decision Locker must make by Jan. 15, the league's deadline for entering the draft.
Until 11 months ago, Sarkisian was a top assistant at Southern California, a cradle of recent NFL quarterbacks good enough to leave after their junior years. So this is the fourth time in eight years he's gone through this.
"We're fortunate that I've had some pretty good experience with this -- that have gone both ways," Sarkisian said this week. "I've seen Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart stay in school. I've seen Mark Sanchez decide to turn pro. Not that any decision is wrong or right. It's what's best for those individuals."
Sarkisian started giving Locker a primer on his decision a month ago.
The coach and Washington athletic director Scott Woodward met with Locker and his parents during the week of Nov. 15, during an off week for the Huskies.
"It's just part of us trying to supply him with the right information, the information that really matters that he's going to base his decision on, and not get caught up in the fluff or the things on the perimeter that don't really matter," Sarkisian said.
The coach is also in the process of getting Locker in contact with Palmer, Leinart and Sanchez, so Locker can "understand what the thought process of each of them, so he can come to a conclusion that he feels good about."
Two days after saying "I don't have a plan of attack. I don't have an outline. I don't have anything," following his 2009 season finale and win over California on Saturday, Locker sat down again with Sarkisian.
Two days after fans in Husky Stadium chanted "One more year!" Locker formally applied for an evaluation from an NFL advisory committee. The committee, representing all 32 league teams, will provide him in the coming weeks with an estimate on his draft prospects.
Sarkisian advised Huskies fans not to read anything into that, calling it "normal" research for any star junior.
What's not normal is the NFL's labor situation. If the league and its players' union don't reach a new collective bargaining agreement in 2010, the 2011 season could be played without a salary cap. Sarkisian is helping Locker explore how that might affect rookie salaries, should Locker choose to stay in college for one more year.
Heisman Trophy winners Palmer and Leinart listened to what Sarkisian had to say and stayed at USC. That worked out OK. Palmer was the first overall pick in 2002 and Leinart was selected 10th in 2005.
Eleven months ago, Sanchez went against the advice of Trojans coach Pete Carroll and presumably Sarkisian, though Sarkisian won't say. Sanchez left and was drafted fifth overall. He is now the starter for the New York Jets.
Sarkisian said he was intimately involved with Sanchez's decision. He calls Sanchez "a great young man" for whom he has the "utmost respect."
"With Mark, just as with Jake, I'm not one to go in there and tell these guys what to do," Sarkisian said. "I just want to supply these guys with information, answer whatever questions they may have.
"Carson, Matt and Mark, they (made) their decision based on what they felt was right, and they never looked back on it. That's what I'm hoping Jake can get accomplished with this as well."
Sarkisian said he is telling Locker to base his decision upon the following:
· The history of quarterbacks that leave early and what they've accomplished.
· What teams will potentially be drafting in the top five, an order that won't be determined until after the NFL regular season ends Jan. 3.
· The evaluation he gets back from that league committee.
· The other quarterbacks that are entering the draft.
· The Huskies' prospects for continuing their progress from 0-12 under Tyrone Willingham last year to 5-7.
"And I think it's based on his strengths and his weaknesses, on what another year would mean for him here, as compared to what another year would mean for him in the National Football League in continuing that process of becoming a premier quarterback," Sarkisian said.
Then there's the issue no one wants to mention, the reason Locker is about to take out an insurance policy for 2010.
"The natural thing would be, 'Well, what if he gets injured?' (With) the insurance policies in place now, that's not as big a factor," Sarkisian said. "You look at a guy like Sam Bradford. He had a season-ending injury, and he's still going to be a top 10 draft pick. So I don't think that is a minus."
Asked if he was optimistic in Locker returning to Washington, Sarkisian answered: "Very optimistic."
"That's just the way I think," Sarkisian said, laughing. "Just the kind of guy I am. It's half-full, not half-empty."