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VOL. 36 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 26, 2012

O’Donnell: Stick with Hasselbeck

Locker ‘hasn’t really established himself’

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Former Tennessee Titan Neil O’Donnell found himself in a quarterback controversy when he helped the Titans to a 4-1 record in 1999. Steve McNair then returned from back surgery to lead the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Matt Hasselbeck can read a defense with the best of them. He proved that with his game-winning touchdown toss to Nate Washington against the Buffalo Bills.

He also can read an impending quarterback controversy and is doing his best to steer clear of igniting any unneeded dissention within the Tennessee Titans locker room.

Shortly after the 35-34 win at Buffalo, Hasselbeck deflected any thought of whether he should be starting when Jake Locker returns from a left shoulder injury.

“That’s not really a focus of mine right now. I think just all of us, we really feel like a team,” Hasselbeck said. “Something about losing games early, pulling through tough times and coming together and holding tight, kind of brought our team a lot closer.

“It’s just a really unselfish group, and I think in part because of how we started. It’s kind of like an all hands on deck. Whatever it takes to win is what we’re going to do.”

One former Titans quarterback understands Hasselbeck’s dilemma, having walked a similar path years earlier.

Neil O’Donnell guided the Titans to a 4-1 record while subbing for an injured Steve McNair in 1999, the franchise’s lone Super Bowl season. When McNair returned from back surgery mid-season, O’Donnell stepped back into the No. 2 role, just the way Mike Munchak has said Hasselbeck will do when Locker’s shoulder is healthy enough for him to play.

O’Donnell has no doubt that Hasselbeck wants to stay in the lineup.

“Matt is going to say all the right things, because he is a true professional,” O’Donnell explains. “But deep down, I guarantee you he wants to play because he’s a competitor, and when you’re out there, those competitive juices start flowing.

“The hardest thing in the world as a competitor is to stand on the sidelines and have to watch. As athletes, that’s our stage, and I guarantee you he wants to be out there.

“The one difference there between my situation and Matt’s is, when I came here, I knew that it was Mac’s team. I knew that I was coming here to back up Steve McNair. Matt came here to start last year. Then he endured the whole Peyton Manning thing and the quarterback competition in camp. But I guarantee you that deep down he wants to start.”

O’Donnell says he would stick with Hasselbeck for a couple of reasons.

“Right now, this is Matt Hasselbeck’s team,” he says. “With the way he has played the last couple of games, he’s making the right reads, the offense is finding a rhythm and he’s spreading the ball around to his receivers.”

The former quarterback also has looked at the schedule and sees the Chicago Bears, with defensive stars Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, following this week’s game with Indianapolis.

“You’ve got the Colts coming up, and that’s a winnable game, so the next week you’ve got the Bears, and I don’t think you want to throw Jake back out there against that defense,” O’Donnell says.

Munchak knows this is a delicate situation. Should he ride the hot hand now or prepare Locker for the future when more pieces might be in place for a deep playoff or Super Bowl run.

“We’re going to take into account everything when we make a decision on what’s best for the football team going forward,” Munchak says. “Generally speaking, Jake comes back, he’ll be the guy playing. We’ll factor in what the situation is, when that time is, what’s going on with our team.

“You’ll think about all those things, but you’re not going to sit here and say, ‘Well, he may lose the job.’ You’re not going to go there. He should be the starter, there’s no reason not to be. Since he’s been hurt, we’re 2-2.

“We know we can win with Matt. We feel we can win with Jake, obviously, also.”

O’Donnell says Munchak and the coaching staff have to consider everything in determining what to do with this potential quarterback dilemma.

“To me, and this is just my opinion, you have to go with Matt, unless this is a complete rebuilding situation,” O’Donnell says. “And usually you only have a complete rebuilding situation if you have a new coach, which you don’t, or an expansion situation.

“Guys like Chris Johnson, Michael Roos and David Stewart, who are in the middle or the end of the their careers, don’t want to be part of a rebuild. It’s true, you’re not supposed to lose your job due to an injury, but Jake hasn’t really established himself yet either.”

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