Tennessee Titans Training Camp: Jake Locker Is the Titans Best Option in 2012
On one side, Jake Locker sits ready to contribute after spending most of his rookie season on the bench. The eighth pick of the 2011 draft, the Titans selected Locker with the hope that he would be their long-term solution at the quarterback spot.
On the other side, Matt Hasselbeck returns for his second season in Tennessee after leading the team to a 9-7 record and posting 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 16 starts. Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowler, is entering his 14th year in the NFL after spending 10 seasons as the starting quarterback in Seattle.
Moving forward, Jake Locker gives the Titans their best chance to win, both in 2012 and in the future.
Throughout his rookie season, Locker made an impression on the coaching staff and veterans in the locker room that is rare to see from a 24-year old quarterback. With a cannon arm and a knack for taking control in the huddle, Locker's physical and mental attributes aren't questioned by those that follow the team closely.
As head coach Mike Munchak told the media following a loss to the Saints on December 11, "You're going to see an exciting player that can make plays, that's fearless and that makes plays with his legs."
As demonstrated in his limited playing time in four games last season, Locker provides a play-making ability that Hasselbeck simply can't offer at this point in his career. During his rookie season, Locker threw for 542 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions while posting a 99.4 quarterback rating and adding another score on the ground.
Who is The Titans best option at quarterback moving forward?
Besides his edge in performance, starting Locker presents benefits to the Titans beyond the 2012 season. With a roster of young talent, highlighted by Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams and Jared Cook, all players under the age of 27 who should have a long future with the Titans organization, the time for development is now.
"I think Jake's got heart," Cook told The Tennessean earlier this offseason. "Jake knows what he wants. When you know what you want, sometimes you're going to get it."
In a league where the passing game has taken over, it's more important than ever for a quarterback to be on the same page as his receiving options. Building chemistry throughout training camp and into the regular season will enable the Titans to ensure that Locker and the rest of the Titans' offense will be able to build relationships that will help the team for years.
Beyond Locker's ability to be a game changer immediately, Hasselbeck's performance throughout last year should concern the decision-makers in Nashville.
After throwing for eight touchdowns and just three interceptions in his first four games of the season, Hasselbeck saw his numbers drastically decline as the season progressed last year. From week 10 until week 16, as the Titans attempted to secure a wild card spot, Hasselbeck had three touchdown passes and eight interceptions, struggling to complete passes as the Titans fell out of the playoffs.
On top of his performance, Hasselbeck struggled to stay healthy despite being hit fewer than any starting quarterback in football outside of Drew Brees. Health concerns and decreasing passing skills are the sign of a quarterback that has simply reached the end of his NFL career.
Locker's approach to the quarterback competition has been exactly what fans and the media hope to hear from a young player. He has made it clear that he intends to do everything in his power to leave Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer with no choice but to hand him the job.
"To have them hand that job over to me, whether it's something they are legitimately thinking now or not, I hope that if they're not, I hope that by the time it's over, they will," Locker told SiriusXM NFL radio. "And if they are (now), I hope that I've done well enough to earn that spot."
Regardless of the way the coaching staff talks about the competition heading into training camp, the job should be Locker's to lose as we move towards the regular season.
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