Locker still recovering from helmet-to-helmet hit, may sit out vs. Cal
SEATTLE -- Washington quarterback Jake Locker is taking incremental steps in his return from a neck injury, but it may not be for Saturday's game against California.
Locker attended practice Wednesday, although he was not in pads. He wore his jersey and sweats and threw about a dozen passes early in practice. He still appeared stiff as he tries to recover from a helmet-to-helmet tackle last Saturday against Oregon State that caused Locker to be taken off the field on a stretcher as a precaution.
Coach Tyrone Willingham, when asked before practice about Locker's status for the game, said, "I won't even attempt to go there."
He added that Locker's progress "may mean more rehab or it may mean he involves himself in some way to slowly work his way back in."
Willingham has a preference that a player practices during the week if he's going to play. But with Locker, the team's best offensive player, he indicated that doesn't necessarily rule him out against Cal.
"Maybe. He has a lot of experience this year. He's taken about every snap we've had this year," Willingham said. "That gives him a base of experience that you might not have at some other positions. But you always need practice. We always believe that."
Locker was hurt on a third-down, second-quarter scramble, when he was hit near the sideline by safety Al Afalava. Locker immediately dropped to the ground and stayed there for 15 minutes.
Locker initially told the medical staff that he couldn't feel his left arm. He was immobilized and placed on a stretcher. Doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis later determined that he had a neck stinger and was fitted for neck brace.
Locker conducted interviews stiffly Tuesday, saying, "It's not out of the realm of possibility" that he would play Saturday.
"I'm going to get back on the field in any way I can. I think anyone would think that way. Nobody milks an injury," he said. "I can't be scared. ... I don't think it will affect how I play the game. I don't plan on being tentative."
If Locker, a redshirt freshman who was second in the nation in yards rushing by a quarterback, cannot play the starting spot will go to fifth-year senior Carl Bonnell.
"I think Carl is a great quarterback. I've learned a lot from him," Locker said. "I feel confident we can win the game if Carl's there.
"Carl really stepped into that leadership role last Saturday and took care of the team."
Bonnell threw for 233 yards in a little more than half a game. He tossed touchdown passes of 41 and 86 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Willingham said Locker actually showed up for practice Tuesday.
"Jake did exactly what we had planned," Willingham said Wednesday. "No. 1, he received his rehab. And, two, he came out later to practice. He did not do anything but was out and available for the later portions of practice."
Asked what "available" meant, Willingham said, "He came out for practice. We did not involve him in any drills."
With Locker's injury in a delicate area there is the possibility he may not be cleared by the medical staff to play in any of the Huskies' final three games.
"It possibly could. You have to do the smart thing and the right thing," Willingham said. "We've said that all along. I won't make any judgments but you always consider all options available."
Those options that Willingham also needs to consider this week is the preparation of the backups. If Locker does not play and the Huskies sustain yet another injury to Bonnell, the team has just a pair of freshman at the end of the depth chart, Taylor Bean and Ronnie Fouch.
The Huskies hope it doesn't come to that. Defensive tackle Jordan Reffett thinks Locker somehow will be there Saturday.
"That's just Jake," Reffett said. "You never know. He's a freak of nature physically. You can't keep him out of the game."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press