More often than not in today's NFL, rookie quarterbacks are thrown into the fire too early. While the rookie wage scale has decreased the pressure teams feel to start their young quarterbacks early, it still happens, for various reasons.
Jake Locker was the only quarterback of the first five taken in the 2011 NFL draft to not get a start in his rookie season.
Cam Newton and Andy Dalton both made the Pro Bowl, while Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder struggled behind weaker teams. Newton and Dalton were starters out of training camp, Gabbert took the reins in Week 3, while Ponder saw his first action in Week 5 against Chicago and was named the starter going into Week 6, as Minnesota was off to a 1-5 start.
Locker didn't see much of the field in his rookie campaign, but looked impressive when he did play.
With Matt Hasselbeck as the Titans' starter, he injured his elbow in Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons. Locker took over and provided Tennessee with a spark, completing 9-of-19 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie's rally fell short, and the Titans lost 23-17.
He got another chance a few weeks later against New Orleans.
Hasselbeck played an ineffective game before injuring his leg, allowing Locker to showcase himself once again. Locker again impressed, going 13-of-29 for 282 yards, with a touchdown through the air and one on the ground. Again, Locker fell short of bringing the Titans back, getting stopped inside the Saints' 10-yard line, losing 22-17.
Locker once again stepped in, replacing Hasselbeck following his second interception in Week 15 against the then winless Colts. Locker went 11-of-16 for 108 yards and a touchdown in his short outing, but again, he brought the Titans' offense to life. In spite of his effort, Indianapolis earned their first win of the season, 27-13 over Tennessee.
Mike Munchak and the Titans' coaching staff are leaving the starting job an open competition, as reported by Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
There is a lot of debate over who will win the starting job. Hasselbeck has experience on his side, and the Titans are coming off a 9-7 season. They have a legitimate shot to make the playoffs, with the Colts in rebuilding mode, the Jaguars' QB situation uncertain and the Texans losing some key players this offseason, including Mario Williams and tackle Eric Winston.
So far, we don't even know if Locker will get a chance to start in his second season.
Many will argue Hasselbeck's experience will give the Titans a better chance at getting back to the playoffs.
I'm not in that boat.
While Locker is young and a little raw, his athleticism and arm strength give him a huge advantage over Hasselbeck. He can bring things Hasselbeck can't. The offense has the potential to be explosive with Locker. I just don't see them being nearly as potent with Hasselbeck.
People look at it as: "What's the fastest way the Titans can get back to the playoffs?" I look at the situation as an attempt to find the best way to build towards the Super Bowl. Building around your franchise quarterback is what's going to win a championship.
Hasselbeck will only carry this team so far at this point in his career.
Locker, meanwhile, provides the Titans with a greater chance at reaching their ultimate goal. Not this season, but down the line, who do you think the Titans have a better chance with?
For this season, if Locker starts, he'll obviously go through growing pains. If he's the starter, I can see the Titans making the playoffs at around 10-6. The key will be the first four games. The Titans have a tough start to their year, facing the Patriots, visiting San Diego, hosting Detroit, then a crucial divisional game at Houston. Coming out of these four games at .500 will be key for their chances at making the playoffs.
With the success that Newton and Dalton had last year, I don't see why Locker wouldn't be good for 20 touchdowns and 3,500 yards this season. Those numbers aren't as big as they used to be in today's passing league.
Locker would have a new weapon in Kendall Wright, not to mention he still has Kenny Britt coming off a torn ACL, Nate Washington, tight end Jared Cook and Chris Johnson, who's looking for a bounce-back year.
Johnson gained 1,047 yards on 262 carries, with just four touchdowns in 2011. The O-line should be improved with the addition of guard Steve Hutchinson. Combining that with Locker's arm strength and athleticism, I see the possibility of a scary offense.
With Hasselbeck, I could see a solid offense, but not one that will worry teams.
My gut feeling is that Hasselbeck will retain the starting job out of training camp, with the Titans struggling out of the gate. By the end of the year, Locker will be the starter and will continue to wow Titans fans. His competitiveness and poise will be what will allow him to overcome the technical deficiencies of his game.