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VOL. 35 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 25, 2011

Please be patient; Locker’s time will come

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When it comes to Jake Locker, Titans fans must feel like kids who are just a few days away from Christmas.

They spot a big box in the corner with their name on it, one that won’t quite fit under the tree with the rest of the presents.

On Sunday, they got to pick it up, rattle it around a little bit and start speculating what might be inside.

That’s sort of the way it was with Locker finally getting his first meaningful action of the season in Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Deep down, Titans fans know they’ll have to wait in order to see what’s there, how much assembly is required and how much enjoyment it will bring. Locker is far from a finished product at the NFL level, and though players like Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are getting much more on-the-job training, the Titans will stay the course and bring Locker along slowly, allowing as much of the playbook as possible to soak in while he waits his turn.

But in Sunday’s game, fans were able to get a glimpse of just what the future might hold at quarterback. He came off the bench for an injured Matt Hasselbeck and, while he hit on just 9 of 19 passes, threw for 140 yards and his first two NFL touchdown passes.

Titans coach Mike Munchak quickly moved to squelch any thought of a quarterback controversy after the game, saying Hasselbeck, if and when he is healthy, is still his guy for the remainder of the season.

Locker showed Titans fans enough to be excited about the future. First, it’s clear the game is not too big for him. Granted, there was little pressure when Locker traded his baseball cap for a helmet and led the team into the huddle. The Titans were down, 23-3.

But a couple of touchdown drives later, Locker had his teammates excited and the Georgia Dome wondering if he had a miracle up his sleeve.

But it’s hard to be the hero without the ball. Falcon fans can thank running back Michael Turner and the Titans’ poor tackling for keeping the ball out of Locker’s hands.

“It was a lot of fun,” Locker explains. “I would have liked a better outcome, but it was just fun to get out there and compete. … I felt comfortable with what we were doing. We were able to kind of go out in the two-minute and just play backyard football. Guys ran some good routes and made some good plays.”

Locker also showed some of the same confidence that allowed him to put the University of Washington football program on his shoulders and elevate it from doormat to respectability.

That quality, plus Locker’s engaging personality and work ethic, is what convinced the Titans front office and coaching staff that he was worth the eighth pick in the draft last April when many of the so-called draft experts said he was only worth a second-round choice.

Yes, there are plenty of rough spots that will have to be worked through with Locker’s game. Throws from the pocket, especially on out routes, still sail high and wide from time to time, as one to Damian Williams did Sunday.

Perhaps most impressive was the professionalism Locker showed when he came in cold but ready to play.

“He did exactly what we thought he would. He’s been learning a great deal from Matt and Coach (Chris) Palmer both,” says Nate Washington, who caught both of Locker’s TD passes. “They’ve been making sure he’s been on point with his reads and his assignments he has at quarterback, and it showed today. Unfortunately, Matt got hurt, but it shows he’s been learning a lot.”

Locker also impressed teammates with his command and calls in the huddle.

“He came in with no fear in his eyes or anything. He stepped up and he played really well for us and gave us a chance at the end. He came in and commanded and got the plays out, made the right calls. He played well,” offensive tackle Mike Otto adds.

The Titans have, of course, been in this position before, managing the excitement surrounding the potential of a young, highly drafted quarterback. They hit a home run with Steve McNair, but the excitement over Vince Young was eventually proven to be fool’s gold, thanks to a lax work ethic and inability to digest a full NFL playbook.

Will Locker eventually be the answer at the quarterback position, fulfilling the brief hope he displayed Sunday? Only time will tell. But from indications inside the Titans complex, if he doesn’t make it, it won’t be because he didn’t put in the time and effort.

And that should be enough of a sign for Titans fans that it’s OK to be excited in anticipation of the eventual arrival of the Locker Era.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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