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VOL. 36 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 07, 2012

2013 is make-or-break for Munchak, Locker

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Maybe it’s just the world we live in, but already you get the feeling that the clock is ticking for Jake Locker as the Tennessee Titans quarterback.

And it is to the point that it’s not too much of a stretch to say that 2013 could be a make-or-break year for both Locker and head coach Mike Munchak.

Munchak will be entering the final year of the three-year contract he signed in 2011 when next season rolls around, and it will be imperative that he show owner Bud Adams that the club is making progress under his watch.

Make no mistake, Munchak inherited a mess, and though the 9-7 record he posted last season in his first year was impressive, it most likely was fool’s gold. Whether it was the lockout, a lightning-in-a-bottle season from Matt Hasselbeck or surprisingly solid play from an average defense, the 2011 Titans overachieved and falsely heightened expectations that the Titans were not that far away from contending.

Unfortunately for Munchak, all those holes and shortcomings that were masked in 2011 have risen to the surface in 2012. The team you see out there now in two-tone blue is exactly the reason Jeff Fisher decided not to stick around for more last year. He knew the roster he had helped to build was flawed.

And so it is that Munchak has been charged with trying to right the ship in a reasonable amount of time.

Which brings us to the question, exactly what is a reasonable amount of time to turn things back around for the Titans.

In a quarterback-driven league, the Titans are putting their hope and faith in Locker, believing that as he learns and improves he can put the franchise on his shoulders and carry it back to contention.

From the early returns, Locker shows promise. His daring style and potential to be a leader are impressive qualities, but he still has a lot to learn before he can be regarded as a polished NFL quarterback.

His progress in the final month of this season and during the 2013 season could determine just how quickly the Titans are able to become contenders.

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and quarterback Jake Locker need to finish the season strong and have an ever better 2013 if they want to continue in their current roles.

-- Ap Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

As Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Houston Texans showed, Tennessee is not close. And while Locker still has much to work on, he’s getting little help from his teammates. Dropped passes, sacks and a young quarterback running for his life is no recipe for winning.

These, and the many defensive problems, have to be addressed in order to give Locker a chance to blossom.

By sitting out most of last year to learn and missing five games with a shoulder injury this year, Locker is already behind in terms of playing time and readiness.

The days of patience with a young quarterback are over, and the early success of Colts rookie Andrew Luck, whom the Titans will see again this Sunday, have made the days of quarterback apprenticeships nearly obsolete.

When guys like Luck, Robert Griffin III of Washington and Russell Wilson of Seattle are able to win games immediately and get their respective teams into the playoff hunt, it puts the pressure on Locker and the Titans to quickly reach that level themselves.

There is no time to waste. While the jury is still out on how good Locker could be, the early returns are already in on some of his 2011 NFL classmates.

Andy Dalton already has the Cincinnati Bengals – yes, the Bengals – in the hunt to reach the playoffs for a second straight season.

Read that last sentence again. It should tell you all you need to know in terms of the expectation level for quarterbacks coming into the NFL. Dalton has helped turn arguably the NFL’s worst franchise into a solid contender, just two years removed from college.

Colin Kaepernick has fans in San Francisco thinking Super Bowl since supplanting Alex Smith as the starter.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert has already been labeled a bust and has some wondering if the Jaguars might do the previously unthinkable and draft another first-round quarterback with the top-five pick that is coming their way in April.

Which brings us back to Locker, who has a total of seven starts and 12 appearances under his belt.

We’ve see flashes of what he can do, but the turnovers and mistakes are at times troubling. It is also evident that the supporting cast needs either a swift kick in the pants or a severe upgrade to help Locker maximize his potential.

But the reality is Locker will have to make a breakthrough and turn that potential into production.

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