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Originally published Friday, August 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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UW's Jake Locker hurt; severity unknown

Washington quarterback Jake Locker suffered a left hamstring strain during practice on Thursday, UW coach Tyrone Willingham said today. Results from an MRI weren't yet in; his status is day to day.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The one player the Washington Huskies can least afford to lose, quarterback Jake Locker, wasn't available for the team's first full-pads practice of fall camp today, nursing a sore left hamstring suffered in practice the day before.

But while the specter of any sort of injury involving Locker is enough to send UW fans into convulsions, Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham said he was confident his quarterback would be able to play in the season opener against Oregon.

And as today drew to a close, there were growing indications that the injury will likely prove to be a minor setback.

Willingham said today an MRI was taken this morning but that the results were not yet back — those will likely be made public Saturday.

Willingham said until then it would be hard to accurately determine a prognosis.

"The degree we don't know," he said. "We'll be monitoring it, as we go through the process we'll be very cautious and move forward day-to-day."

But asked if Locker will be able to play in the opener on Aug. 30 at Oregon, Willingham said: "I don't see why he wouldn't. But again, it's too early. We are just getting our first looks at it." And indications were that the injury was of the type that doesn't run a great risk of re-injury.

Locker was wearing a wrap on his upper left leg and limping noticeably as he walked into an interview room to meet with reporters. He said he was running a read option play when he was injured. The team was not in full pads, wearing only helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.

"I was running around the outside and went to turn up and just couldn't do what I normally do," he said. "It's just a little bit sore. Nothing too bad."

Locker said he didn't go down on the play, just took "a little hop and a skip." He didn't guess at his prognosis.

"I'll just leave it up to the trainers," he said. "We all trust those guys. They will do what's best for me to get back as fast as possible without risking injury again."

While Willingham called the injury a strain, he left open the possibility it could be something worse.

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"We don't know — strain, pull, tear," he said.

Willingham said Locker won't be rushed back to action, despite the specter of the Oregon game now being just 22 days away, saying "as we have done in the past, we will probably err on the side of caution."

Willingham said one of the positives is that Locker has no pre-existing history of hamstring injuries, which is what he said can often cause such injuries to take longer to heal. Willingham recalled cornerback Byron Davenport, who last year suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and was never 100 percent the rest of the season. Davenport had previous struggles with the same injury, Willingham said.

"Different people are different," Willingham said. "And how they respond is totally different based on the individual. Byron's history may have included more hamstring [injuries]. Jake, there's nothing there, so it's different."

And near the end of his comments, Willingham professed not to be too worried.

"I'm not that concerned about the results [of the MRI]," he said. "I saw the injury when it happened. Obviously everybody responds differently, so his body's response will be a little bit different from another's. But one thing I think and believe is he's a pretty quick healer."

Willingham said the team "kept right on going" after the injury.

But some players said there was a pall on the practice after the injury.

"I was pretty upset when he started limping off the field," said receiver Anthony Boyles. "But he'll be back. He's a tough guy."

With Locker sidelined indefinitely, redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch takes over as the team's starting quarter.

A graduate of Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High, Fouch has been at UW since the spring quarter of 2007, and has taken part in two spring practices.

And while he has never played in a game, Willingham and Locker each said they think Fouch can do the job well, if needed.

"Ronnie did a great job yesterday coming in and running the offense, so I don't think we'll miss anything," Locker said. "Those guys respect him and he's got control of the huddle and he'll do a good job. He'll keep the offense on track. And I'm able to take mental reps when I'm out there, seeing the same things he is. I'm just not able to make the throws. So if anything, it will be good for me to be able to get out there and really watch the game and study it. I'll still be learning while I'm out there."

Fouch, listed at 6-1, 203, is known for his accurate passing and being able to run, though not as well as Locker, who last year set the Pac-10 record for rushing yards by a QB with 986.

And while Willingham praised the ability of Fouch, he acknowledged that Locker's status as the leader of the team could be something hard to replace long-term.

"Obviously the leadership role is so much different from that position, so that casts a gigantic shadow on your football team when you lose that position," Willingham said. "But at the same time, it's what you kind of prepare for all the time. Your team has to have the same mentality as whether it's a starting tackle, a right guard. The next guy has to step in and be ready to step up and lead the charge."

An even bigger issue is the backup behind Fouch.

UW has just three scholarship QBs: Locker, Fouch, and incoming freshman Luther Leonard of Evergreen High in Seattle. The Huskies signed another last year, Dominique Blackman of Carson, Calif. But he is academically ineligible and won't enroll until January.

Willingham said Leonard is battling with walk-on redshirt freshman Taylor Bean for the spot behind Fouch.

"The third position [behind Fouch] we'll see," Willingham said.

Losing Locker for any period of time would be a big blow to a Husky team seeking its first winning season since 2002. Locker is perceived as the one sure-thing on an offense that is young and unproven at most of the other skill positions.

The Oregon game starts a brutal stretch for the Huskies, who then host BYU and Oklahoma in a schedule some call the toughest in the nation.

That's a stretch that figures to go a long way toward determining the course of the season, which in turn will determine the future of Willingham, who is 11-25 in three years at UW and has just two years left on his contract.

Locker's injury continues a recent string of bad news for the Huskies.

Starting center Juan Garcia suffered a Lisfranc injury in the spring and his status for the season remains uncertain. The leading tackler from a year ago, linebacker E.J. Savannah, is not on the roster due to academic issues and it is uncertain if he will be back this season.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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