For almost the first three months of the football season, Jake Locker has been relatively healthy.
Well, as healthy as a player like Locker can be.
It is football, and the University of Washington quarterback has never been one to shy away from contact. But save for a few bumps, bruises and tightness, Locker hasn’t been forced to the sideline or out of a game this season.
That could change Saturday if things don’t improve.
UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday there is no guarantee that Locker will be ready to play against the UCLA Bruins on Saturday at the Rose Bowl after suffering a deep thigh bruise in a 43-19 loss to Oregon on Oct. 24.
“I’d say he’s questionable,’” Sarkisian said. “Jake’s the kind of guy the first time you ask him, he’s going to tell you that he’s playing.”
Locker didn’t disappoint, saying: “Yeah, I should be ready to go” at the beginning of his meeting with media and “Oh yeah. I expect to be out there, definitely” to wrap it up.
Yet in the middle of those statements, Locker admitted that the decision won’t be entirely his.
“I think it will be a collaboration, definitely,” he said. “They are going to expect me to be honest with them about how I feel and what I’d be able to do. But ultimately it comes down what they feel is best for me and this football team.”
It’s a fine line to walk, considering that the offense is heavily reliant on Locker, who leads the Pacific-10 Conference in total yards (271.9 yards per game) and is the team’s best playmaker.
If Locker is unable to play, sophomore Ronnie Fouch would start. While both Sarkisian and Locker expressed confidence in Fouch, there are still some uncertainties. Fouch has appeared in two games and attempted one pass this season.
Last season when Locker was sidelined with a broken thumb, Fouch started eight games – all losses – and threw 13 interceptions, showing inaccuracy and shaky decision-making.
“I think he took the brunt of a lot of the heat that was going on,” Sarkisian said. “When your team is behind extensively and you’re throwing the ball, and they’re rushing the passer, it’s not a very fun position to be in as a quarterback.
“You kind of click into survival mode at that position.”
Sarkisian said he believes Fouch is out of survival mode and back to playing normal football.
Sarkisian still needs to see certain things from Locker this week before he puts him out there, starting with participating in practice more than just the limited work he did Sunday evening. Locker took about half the snaps Monday with the first team, with Fouch taking the rest.
“I think it would be difficult for him not to practice to be fine in a game,” Sarkisian said. “We need to be smart with this, to get him the reps to assess where he is but not try to kill him Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, so that we can get to the game. So we’ll be smart with how we monitor him and the number of reps that he gets.”
The thigh bruise has sapped Locker’s best asset – his speed. It’s a concern for Sarkisian.
“Just from a mobility standpoint, I don’t want to put a guy out there that can’t move, that is just a sitting target to get hit,” Sarkisian said. “We’re not going to force him back on the field if he’s not healthy and ready to go.
“I would anticipate that he would be, but it remains day-to-day.”
Linebacker E.J. Savannah probably won’t play Saturday as he recovers from surgery on a broken thumb. The latest break was third on his left hand this season.
“E.J. is very doubtful,” Sarkisian said. “He had hand surgery on his hand again. I’d be surprised if he could go Saturday, but I’ve seen stranger things. We’ll assess him as the days go by, but he’s very doubtful.”
Savannah has played with the hand in a cast this season. Now, pain is the issue.
“It’s just a matter of how sore that thing really is from a threshold standpoint,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a very tough kid and he’s been through a lot of the physical pain from that thing already this year, so that’s why I don’t count anything out. But realistically speaking, it would probably be advantageous for him to not go this week and then be able to go versus Oregon State (on Nov. 14).”
Boyles gets more reps
Wide receiver turned cornerback Anthony Boyles will see increased reps at his new position in practice this week in an effort to get him ready for Saturday’s game.
Boyles, at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, would be useful against UCLA’s taller receivers Taylor Embree (6-3, 200) and Nelson Rosario (6-5, 211).
“He did some things just from a sheer athleticism standpoint last week,” Sarkisian said. “Now as we get into gameplan mode it’s going to be how he can handle the subtleties of the defense, the mixing of coverages. He’s obviously very talented, he’s athletic, he’s physical, he’s long, which is a nice match-up for us because of Embree and Rosario.”