With Shanahan & Allen, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

Right now, if you ask ten different so-called NFL experts, draft pundits, and Redskins fans alike the question of: “Who do you think the Redskins are going to take with their first round pick” you could very well end up with 10 different answers.

First, everyone thought they were going to take Cam Newton. If not Newton, then Blaine Gabbert from Missouri, the other “blue-chip” quarterback in this draft. Then Phil Taylor, the nose tackle from Baylor was the hot name. When it looked like the former two wouldn’t be available and it would be a big reach to take the latter, we started throwing out other possibilities. Perhaps they’d take someone like defensive end JJ Watt from Wisconsin or defensive end Robert Quinn from UNC to upgrade the defense. After the scouting combine, the new hot name linked to the Redskins – despite no other credible evidence out there supporting this idea – is wide receiver Julio Jones from Alabama. And, of course, you’ve still got “the field”: other shots-in-the-dark possibilities like running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, cornerback Prince Amukamara of Nebraska, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue or any wild guess really.

Here’s what I think. When it comes to the Shanahan/Allen regime, they thrive on secrecy and misinformation. They’re the opposite of that bungling fool Vinny Cerrato, who if you were playing in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, he would have let you know what cards he had before you even flipped the Turn or the River cards.

But even with this new found secrecy in Redskins park, historical precedent has shown that with Shanahan and Allen, look for the most smoke, and you’ll likely find the fire. Last year, the name of Trent Williams started emerging more and more as the guy the Redskins would take with the 4th overall pick, even though he may not have even been considered a top 10 pick late in the winter. The debate raged on, regarding whether the Redskins should take Williams versus a guy like Russell Okung, who most considered to be the more “NFL-ready” guy. Okung had all the accolades (two-time All American, Big 12 lineman of the year, Outland trophy finalist) and was even projected by some to be the first overall selection in the whole draft.

But Shanahan and Allen saw a guy with enormous potential and upside (even greater than Okung’s), and someone who could be dominant in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme. Even on draft day itself, when rumors swirled that the Redskins would make a trade up to go get Sam Bradford (turns out there was no basis for this), or that they were seriously considering taking Eric Berry (not even close), they stuck with their guns throughout and zeroed in on taking Williams.

Really, that’s really the only evidence or precedent we have to go with, if we’re trying to predict exactly what Shanahan and Allen are going to do. So what exactly can we extrapolate from this?

Here’s my thought: even with all of those names mentioned above, as speculation regarding whom the Redskins may end up taking with their first round choice, who’s the one guy whose name is consistently linked with the Redskins, even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense right now?

That would be University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker.

If you read between the lines and take samplings of well-connected media guys, player agents, and the always-secretive guys “who know a guy who knows something,” the Redskins and Jake Locker’s name keep popping up together.

And to me, it makes a lot more sense than you might think. Let’s be honest: Mike Shanahan didn’t come to Washington to have Rex Grossman to lead him to a Super Bowl (or anywhere at all, really). Rex is the placeholder, at best. And Shanahan and Allen have to realize, at this point, that they’re at least a year or two away from being a contender for anything, given how pathetically bare the cupboard was left for them when they first arrived.

Locker has as much upside as any quarterback in this draft, not named Cam Newton. From my armchair quarterback point of view: I want three things from my quarterback: accuracy, loves the game of football as much as anything else, and a guy that his teammates would go to war with any day of the week. Those three things matter more than anything else, if we’re projecting future success in this league.

From all accounts, Locker aces the latter two. His intangibles are second to none. Even all the other accoutrement you could possibly want from your franchise quarterback – arm strength, mobility, frame – he grades out as an “A+” in all of those areas as well. He already had some experience in an NFL-style West Coast offense, playing under Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington, which will slightly minimize his learning curve when making the jump to the NFL.

Now, as far as accuracy goes; yeah, there’s a lot to be desired with that. He’s streaky, erratic, and still has a ways to go with his decision making. There’s still a lot to develop with him, as far as his throwing rhythm, reading defenses, and footwork.

But here’s my thing with Locker: unlike guys in the past who were all athlete and none quarterback, Locker wants to get better. He wants to learn how to be better. He wants to be coached, and doesn’t just want to show off his athletic marvels (arm strength and running speed). Again, you can’t find a single person that doesn’t love Locker as a person or as a football player.

I’ve made my belief pretty clear when discussing other quarterbacks in the past, especially for one that’s as “raw” as Locker: they should hold the clipboard for as long as possible, and learn from the sidelines. Let him soak up as much as possible in the classroom first, and then take his reps with the scout team, throwing to scrub wide receivers, and improving his game the old-fashioned way: through hard work on his own. And if the Redskins happen to be out of playoff contention come early December, then it’s ok to let Locker onto the field and get some reps in real-time; but only after he’s had time to get some “seasoning” on the bench, first.

Only those fans with the highest prescriptions on their burgundy and gold glasses will think the Redskins are a legitimate contender for anything in 2011. They just have way too many holes to address on both sides of the football.

But biggest of all those holes is the future of the quarterback position. Drafting Locker at least gives you an answer at that position, especially if he turns out to be a success.  And really, how many guys in the league would you take over Mike Shanahan, when it comes to developing a quarterback? Shanahan got Brian Griese and Jake Plummer to lead his team to AFC West titles, and had Jay Cutler throw for a mind-bending 4500+ yards (still his career high) in only his third season.

Is there a big part of me that fears Locker may be the second coming of Heath Shuler? Absolutely. But there’s a bigger part of me that’s absolutely intrigued by him as well. If he was just a physical specimen that played in a gimmick offense in college for a season or two, I’d be a lot more worried. But I think there’s a ton of potential there that, if developed properly, could lead to some very promising results.

So either I really believe all of this about Locker, Or maybe I’m just convincing myself into buying into Locker, because that’s who I think will be the quarterback of the future for the time being in Washington.

This article was cross-posted on RedskinsGab.com

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