TACOMA -- If Jake Locker is still available and the Seahawks turn elsewhere Thursday night, general manager John Schneider better have an explanation.
I can't think of a good one.
--Accuracy concerns? Accuracy can be improved with technical adjustments polished by repetition. In other words, practice.
Nobody in the 2011 draft class figures to be more diligent about investing time and effort into his craft than Locker, whose practice time with the Huskies was limited by NCAA rules.
Locker will look at his new, 16-games-a-season gig in the NFL as a year-round proposition. Can the same be said of Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who recently missed a meeting the Carolina Panthers scheduled with him? Or Cam Newton? Asked by Jon Gruden to recall the verbiage of a typical play called in the Auburn huddle, Newton mentioned something about being "caught off guard." The Heisman Trophy winner didn't mean the play was off the guard; he meant he was off guard: No answer. Drew a blank.
Locker draws some blanks himself -- as an interview subject, he can make Joe Montana sound like Winston Churchill -- but I can't imagine him incapable of remembering a typical play called in the Huskies huddle.
Accuracy, by the way, didn't seem to be an issue during Locker's pro-day workout at the University of Washington. True, game conditions weren't replicated -- he was throwing to uncovered receivers, and he wasn't concerned about a pass rush -- but Locker's ability to precisely deliver a football to a moving target shouldn't be questioned.
--Putting undue pressure on a local college athlete to succeed with his hometown NFL team? There will be pressure on Locker wherever he ends up. He's a quarterback, it goes with the territory. The fact the Seahawks -- and Seahawks fans -- are more familiar with Locker than the other quarterbacks in the draft is not a reason to look for an alternative.
If Locker were attached to a posse of shiftless friends whose only ambition in life is to enjoy the perks of their buddy's potential NFL stardom, he'd probably benefit by moving away. But associating with the wrong crowd is the last thing anybody familiar with Locker should fret.
He grew up in the Seattle area (Ferndale), has his family in the Seattle area, and plans to get married and settle down in the Seattle area. It's inconceivable that Locker will be more comfortable in Minnesota or Tennessee than he would be in Seattle.
--Addressing more urgent priorities in the first round than quarterback? The Seahawks have needs on both sides of the line and in the defensive backfield, but no priority is as urgent as identifying a player capable of stabilizing the most important position in pro sports.
The $4 million owed to Charlie Whitehurst in 2011 almost certainly assures the Seahawks will cut ties with Matt Hasselbeck. (Schneider recently credited Whitehurst for leading the Seahawks to their most important victory in the 2010 season -- the season-finale, virtual playoff game against the Rams.) But is Whitehurst the long-term solution? We don't know, and neither do Schneider and coach Pete Carroll.
All any of us know is that the Seahawks might have a chance to draft a mobile, strong-armed quarterback with proven leadership skills and an impeccable work ethic. If the Seahawks select this quarterback with the 25th pick of the first round, they'll have the luxury of using 2011 as a sort of soft-landing developmental season for him -- assuming, of course, that Whitehurst stays healthy.
And if Whitehurst gets clobbered and is forced to miss a game? I'm watching Locker with my eyes wide open. Mediocre last season, the Seahawks could regress to the point that 2011 becomes a rebuilding project with a comprehensive overhaul. But if Locker is on the field, they'll never be boring.
I've heard comparisons between Locker and two-time National Leauge Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum. Despite a stellar career at Washington -- he was regarded as the top college pitcher in America as a senior -- Lincecum was shunned by the Mariners in the first round of the 2006 baseball draft. (They selected California's Brandon Morrow instead.)
The comparison is a stretch: While Lincecum was a dominant college player whose slight physique gave scouts the suspicion he couldn't endure the wear and tear of the big leagues, Locker was merely a serviceable college player who, at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, has a body type that's perfect for an NFL quarterback.
But Lincecum and Locker share an undeniable link. If the Seahawks decline the opportunity to draft a guy who spent his college career five miles away from Qwest Field, and that guy turns into the pillar of a world-championship team, Seattle sports fans will never discuss Locker without making a reference to Lincecum.
Avoiding comparisons to Tim Lincecum shouldn't be a motivation for the Seahawks to draft Locker -- the Mariners' history of draft whiffs is irrelevant to Schneider and Carroll -- but the seed has been planted.
My hunch is that Jake Locker will blossom into a fine NFL quarterback.
He's a gifted natural athlete with an appetite to learn and a drive to excel. If his name is still on the board Thursday and the Seahawks choose to go in a different direction, I will be anxious to know why.