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Matt Hasselbeck: The Tennessee Titans' Best Choice for 2012 NFL Opener

Zach Law@zach_lawContributor IFebruary 11, 2012

Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3500 yards last year.
Matt Hasselbeck threw for 3500 yards last year.Bob Levey/Getty Images

This is a tender subject for Titan nation (or cul-de-sac, judging from their relatively small numbers).

Matt Hasselbeck had the best statistical season for a Titan QB since Steve McNair in 2003. This was a breath of fresh air after five long years of the Kerry Collins/Vince Young show. For all of Hasselbeck's recent injury woes, he did not miss a start.

As bad as Hasselbeck looked in the soul-crushing loss in Indianapolis that ended the team's playoff hopes, he was the steady presence that led the team to a surprising 9-7 finish. Before the recurring injuries that took him out of games against the Falcons, Saints and Colts, he was on pace for a 4000-yard passing season.

The last time a QB threw for 4000 yards, the franchise was called the Houston Oilers and a guy named Warren Moon was behind center.

Not only did Hasselbeck maintain a 250-per-yard-game pace for two thirds of the season, he did it with a putrid running game and his top wide receiver, Kenny Britt, hurt early in the third game.

The Titans were one win out of the playoffs. Based on what we've seen in the playoffs recently, just getting to the playoffs is good enough. In four of the last five Super Bowls, there's been a team that played on Wild Card weekend.

Matt Hasselbeck is playoff tested, with 11 career playoff starts. While he has five playoff wins, it's true that he's never won a road playoff game.

There's a lot of support for giving Jake Locker the starting gig on opening day 2012 and not looking back. Locker relieved Hasselbeck three times in the second half of the season, and every time he entered the game, the team was losing and he had to pass a ton. That's not easy for a first-year player.

It's pretty amazing to think what Locker did in those games. He rallied the team from a 23-3 deficit in Atlanta, but after cutting the lead to 23-17, the defense couldn't make one big stop.

The Saints had the Titans beat with a 22-10 lead in the fourth quarter. Locker helicoptered into the end zone for one TD and came five yards short of pulling off the most dramatic Titan win since the Vince Young walk-off TD pass against the Cardinals two years ago.

Against the Colts, he helped get the team within one score before Donald Brown morphed into Jim Brown and put the game away on a long touchdown run.

Can Jake Locker salvage the #10 for Tennessee Titans fans?
Can Jake Locker salvage the #10 for Tennessee Titans fans?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Jake Locker represents the future of the QB position for the Titans. He has the run-pass skills that are at a premium to counteract the athletic beasts playing defensive line these days.  Don't forget that Chris Johnson had his best running season lining up behind an athletic quarterback. The Titans wouldn't run the read option 15 times a game like we've seen from the 2011 Denver Broncos, but that would make defensive coordinators lose some sleep.

It used to be a fact in the NFL that if you brought in a first-year starter, that he was guaranteed to struggle. The recent successes of Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez—not to mention the first-ever all-rookie quarterback playoff matchup last year between T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton—show that a team can overcome a lack of experience at quarterback.

You're more likely to see a season like Cam Newton's 2011 or Peyton Manning's 1998, with some good and some bad and a finish well short of the playoffs.

The case against throwing Locker out there on opening day is that those rookie and first-year sensations played because their respective teams had no better option.

Hasselbeck still has the skills to be an above-average and even borderline-elite quarterback. If he gets an entire offseason with his skilled position players, and Kenny Britt recovers well enough to get on the field later in training camp, that 4000-yard season could come to fruition.

There's no guarantee that Jake Locker's going to be a quality starter in the league. Despite almost perfect mechanics, his accuracy was not great in college. A lot was made of his 4-for-20 passing performance in a regular season loss to Nebraska. He topped out at 58.2 percent as a junior.

For comparison purposes, Tim Tebow's worst completion percentage in college was 64.4.  Tebow played for national titles on a regular basis and Locker played in one bowl game and had one team with a winning record, so it's safe to say that the talent level was slightly higher in Gainesville.

Locker was a surprise pick at No. 8. A lot of draft experts expected the Titans to select Blaine Gabbert or Andy Dalton. If you believe in superstition or karma, his selection of the number 10 couldn't make Titan fans happy. It was a bad marketing move for the franchise, as most fans slapped a piece of duct tape with "Locker" in sharpie to replace the "Young." Let's just say that Locker has a lot to prove.

What we've seen on the field from Locker is promising. His experience will pay dividends in 2012 even if he doesn't enter the season as the starter.

As much as I painted a rosy picture of Hasselbeck throwing lasers for 16 games and skipping off the field arm-in-arm with a rejuvenated Chris Johnson, we are still talking about a QB who has four seasons of 16 starts in 11 years as a starter.

Matt gets hurt. He was one of the best-protected quarterbacks in the league last year, but we know it only takes one hit. Having Locker available to fill in is a major asset in this scenario. Considering how well Locker played last year in almost exclusively desperate situations, he might just take the job and never give it back up.

This is why I vote for Matt Hasselbeck to be the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback to open the 2012 season.

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