How Much Leash Should the Titans Give Jake Locker in 2013?

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How Much Leash Should the Titans Give Jake Locker in 2013?
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In 2011, the Tennessee Titans drafted quarterback  Jake Locker, hopeful that the former Washington star would blossom into their franchise quarterback of the future.

Headed into his third season, the team still appears hopeful that Locker is their guy. However, that blossoming has yet to happen, and at some point one has to ask the question as to whether it ever will.

That, in turn, begs another question. When is enough enough with Jake Locker?

Locker enters the 2013 season firmly on the proverbial hot seat in the eyes of many pundits. One of those pundits, a former Super Bowl quarterback in his own right, feels that Locker may struggle to ever be an effective NFL quarterback.

According to Rotoworld, ESPN's Ron Jaworski, who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a berth in Super Bowl XV, gave a very tepid review of Locker's potential during his "QB Countdown."

While Locker has often been talked about as throwing well on the run, a careful look at all his throws reveals that he is erratic with both his clarity and his accuracy. What really stood out in evaluating Locker was the number of sacks he took that resulted from pressure outside the box, especially from the slot. If (Locker) does not throw with more consistent accuracy, he will always struggle to become a quality NFL starter.

If Jaworski's assessment is correct, then both Locker and the Titans have big problems.

Because Jake Locker has never been, nor has he given any indication of ever being, an accurate quarterback.

Of the six quarterbacks who were drafted in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL draft, only Locker failed to complete 60 percent of his passes in either his last year in college or in any of his seasons in the NFL.

In fact, Locker never completed 60 percent of his passes during his time at the University of Washington. His combined completion percentage (college plus NFL) is the lowest of that bunch.

Simply put, the odds that Jake Locker is going to suddenly morph into an accurate quarterback just aren't good. There's only so much coaching that can be done. At some point, a quarterback is either accurate or he isn't.

With all that said though, the Titans don't appear to be in any hurry to even really consider pulling the plug on their young signal-caller.

In fact, it's quite the opposite.

When speaking with Jeff Darlington of NFL.com, Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had only positive things to say about Locker, predicting a big leap from the 25-year-old in his third NFL season.

"Jake's success will be the result of the way he works and the amount he cares. He's an internally motivated guy, but the thing that kills him is, he feels like when he makes a mistake that he let everyone down. And it's sincere. That's what drives him."

Wide receiver Nate Washington told Tim McCormick of Titans Insider (via NFL.com's Marc Sessler) that he sees a lot of similarities between Locker and a two-time Super Bowl champion.

I was there in Ben's [Roethlisberger] second year, and right away you kind of understood that -- even in his second year -- he was gonna be a good quarterback, a guy that could make plays. That's the same thing with Jake. He's a guy who can make plays. I tell everybody all the time, this is football, and it's a gladiator sport, but it's not a dumb man's sport.

OK now, let's just settle down.

No one is questioning that Jake Locker is an athletic quarterback, or that he wants to win and works hard. However, just a glance at Roethlisberger's career numbers reveals one gigantic difference between the two.

Ben Roethlisberger completed over 66 percent of his passes as a rookie. Locker has never sniffed that number.

Head coach Mike Munchak is in a bit of a bind. He became head coach the same year that Locker was drafted. The two are linked together after a fashion.

However, team owner Bud Adams is rapidly losing patience with the team (if he has any left). After a 9-7 2011 season that showed signs of promise, the Titans backslid badly last year. At the end of a 6-10 2012 campaign, Adams told Titans Insider (via NFL.com) that "I just didn't want to watch any more of that mess."

The team was then very active in free agency, shelling out big money to guard Andy Levitre and bringing running back Shonn Greene and safeties George Wilson and Bernard Pollard to town.

The edict would appear to be clear. Win now.

Frankly, that's not going to be easy with a quarterback who can't hit on six out of 10 passes.

Unfortunately for Munchak, his alternatives aren't all that appealing. The team brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick to back up Locker. Fitzpatrick is an adequate NFL quarterback, but adequate is about all he is.

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He doesn't have Locker's athleticism or his arm strength, and Fitzpatrick has tossed an eye-popping 39 interceptions over the last two years. Throw in eight lost fumbles, and Fitzpatrick has averaged over 20 giveaways a season over that stretch.

For that reason as much as any other, it will take an epic face-plant for Locker to get the hook this year. It's "his" team now, for better or worse. Turning to Fitzpatrick would not only signify Munchak throwing in the towel on Locker, but on his tenure as the Titans' coach as well.

For his part, Locker told the NFL Network via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk that he realizes he has to step up his game his season, and that the pressure from outside pales next to the pressure he places on himself.

I can improve in a lot of areas, and I think that first and foremost, just find a way to be consistent. There were a lot of third downs, situations where if we would have converted and kept drives alive it would have changed the game. A lot of times it just came down to one or two plays, and finding ways to maybe not make the flashy play, but just find a way to move the sticks.

Mike Munchak had better hope that Locker backs up that talk on the field this fall.

Otherwise, they're both going to be looking for work.

 

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