NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For all the money Tennessee spent this offseason, how well the Titans fare this season easily rests on quarterback Jake Locker.
No longer a rookie or even a first-year starter, Locker goes into his third NFL season healthy with a new playbook, a rebuilt offensive line protecting him and some new teammates to catch his passes. So how the Titans bounce back from a 6-10 season and whether they reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 will depend on how well Locker plays.
Locker, 25, welcomes the pressure.
“I think that’s an awesome place to be …,” Locker said. “I feel very confident and very comfortable in what we’re doing right now. I’m excited about that opportunity.”
The Titans certainly have done everything possible to put Locker in position to succeed.
They bolstered the offensive line with two new guards in veteran Andy Levitre and rookie Chance Warmack. They also drafted another receiver in Justin Hunter to go with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington. Shonn Greene was signed to bring a power running back for a change of pace with Chris Johnson. Delanie Walker is a new receiving option at tight end too.
Tennessee also cut veteran Matt Hasselbeck in March and signed Ryan Fitzpatrick strictly as Locker’s backup, not competition for the starting job.
“We’ve done what we think is necessary to do,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “Now hopefully we’re right. We have to go prove that we’re right on what we did and all those things that we did are obviously going to benefit Jake.”
Locker was named the starter during training camp a year ago, and that didn’t turn out too well. He dislocated his left, non-throwing shoulder after an interception that should have been whistled dead as an incompletion with his shoulder popping out of joint as he threw down the defender. He didn’t miss a start before reinjuring the shoulder in the fourth game, sidelining him for five straight games.
He wound up throwing for 2,176 yards and had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10), though he did run for 291 yards and a touchdown.
So the eighth selection overall in 2011 out of Washington goes into his third season surrounded by questions over whether or not he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. It didn’t help that rookies like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck not only got plenty of headlines but wins and playoff berths to boot in 2012.
Locker had surgery soon after the season ended to fix the shoulder once and for all. He healed quickly enough that he wasn’t limited during the team’s offseason program. He’s played so well that receiver Nate Washington said Locker is finally showing he can be an elite quarterback in the NFL, having improved his game across the board.