Washington coach Tyrone Willingham said that ultimately, it's a player's performance that determines whether he will redshirt as a true freshman.
But in the case of highly touted quarterback Jake Locker, it could be circumstance that is the real decider.
Willingham said Thursday that Locker, a graduate of Ferndale High School, has looked like the real deal through the first 10 days of Washington's training camp.
"He is athletically talented, he has poise, and he has the respect of his teammates, even at this early stage," Willingham said.
But quarterback is one position where the Huskies suddenly seem pretty well set. Isaiah Stanback is the clear starter, with Carl Bonnell cementing his hold on the backup spot he grabbed in spring with a good beginning to training camp. Also still in the fold is junior Johnny DuRocher.
And while Locker has apparently done nothing but make coaches think he will live up to the all of the hype, it's rare for a true freshman to win a quarterback battle over established players. The only UW quarterback to ever start as a true freshman was Marques Tuiasosopo in 1997 and that was due to injury.
What happened: The Huskies held one practice, going in full pads in the afternoon. Coach Tyrone Willingham characterized it as "OK — we didn't set the world on fire," indicating that execution was lacking at times.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: The Huskies have made one notable position change, with true freshman Matt Mosley having moved to cornerback from receiver, which means he's moving from one depth-shy position to another. Without Mosley, UW now has just three tailbacks — Kenny James, Louis Rankin and Shelton Sampson. But the Huskies are also shy on cornerback depth, especially with Dashon Goldson (ankle) and Jordan Murchison (knee) ailing and unable to practice at times.
Arriving soon? JC transfer Ashlee Palmer, who has yet to practice with the team while completing academic requirements, watched practice from the sideline, at one point flashing a thumbs up to a coach, which may indicate that he will soon join the team possibly as early as today. Willingham said only "not yet" when asked if Palmer's presence on the sideline was indicative of anything.
Gold standard: Only one player was awarded a gold jersey Thursday for his play, cornerback Roy Lewis for special teams.
Injury report: Four players wore red jerseys, meaning they did not participate fully because of injury — linebacker Scott White (head), offensive tackle Ben Ossai (head), defensive tackle Erick Lobos (foot) and defensive end Darrion Jones (head). Willingham said White and Ossai were injured a few days ago when they bumped into each other.
Willingham said simply of Locker that "he's not there yet" in comparison to UW's veterans.
So unless something drastic happens — namely injuries to one or all of the returnees — it seems likely there will be little need for Locker to play this year. Willingham said before camp began he could envision using Locker at another position at some point in his career but said Thursday that Locker has not seen time anywhere but quarterback to date.
Still, don't expect any formal announcement of Locker's playing status soon. Willingham said that a decision whether to play Locker this year "will probably come as late as you can possibly make it."
Technically, such a decision doesn't ever really have to be made.
Locker could suit up and travel to every game this year, ready to go if needed, but earn a redshirt year if he never plays. (Once a player sees action, however, he can only redshirt due to injury, and then only if that injury occurs in the first five games.)
Willingham said he could envision taking the redshirt off a player (he didn't specifically mention Locker) deep into the season if it meant the difference in making it to a bowl game.
Longtime Huskies fans may recall how Don James wanted to redshirt Cary Conklin in 1987 but was forced to play him late in the season when Chris Chandler was injured.
Willingham has lots of experience dealing with highly touted freshman QBs. At Notre Dame, he played Brady Quinn as a true freshman in 2003 when incumbent Carylye Holiday couldn't hold onto the job. At Stanford, he redshirted the likes of Chris Lewis and Randy Fasani, the latter generally regarded as the top QB recruit in the nation in 1996.
Asked to compare Locker to other QBs he's coached, Willingham said "he's right in that class."
Even so, he may spend this year in class, learning from the sideline.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org