Backup QB turned starter takes over for Titans

Ryan Fitzpatrick likes how he looks with a bushy beard, it makes
him feel comfortable.

Now, about to make his first start in Tennessee with Jake Locker
sidelined with a sprained hip, Fitzpatrick is a little upset with
himself for shaving his face clean a month ago. His current beard
isn’t nearly as impressive, and Fitzpatrick needs any edge he can
get.

”It’s never easy I think to step in from a backup role to the
starter kind of mid-stream I guess,” Fitzpatrick said Wednesday.
”I got to go in there and make these three days very productive.
… Being 3-1 with our defense playing great, I think with the
confidence just in general that our team is playing with, this is a
fun situation to step into.”

The Titans signed Fitzpatrick to a two-year contract in March
wanting the veteran in his ninth season to mentor and back up Jake
Locker. Now Locker is out a few weeks with a sprained right hip and
knee, it’s time for Fitzpatrick to step in and try to keep
Tennessee’s momentum going until Locker returns.

Fitzpatrick said his role now is different than a week ago. He
spent plenty of time talking with receivers during practice
Wednesday in what he called side conversations. He also threw to
them during defensive drills with some extra work after
practice

”With Jake now being injured, I’ve got to go out and let them
know what I expect,” Fitzpatrick said. ”If you’re not on the same
page, that’s what leads to some of the miscommunication and things
that can’t happen.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak said it’s an adjustment for everybody
with Fitzpatrick.

”He’s been through it before,” Munchak said. ”He’s been in
the league a long time, so we’re hoping he can make this adjustment
rather quickly because we need that on Sunday.”

The Titans have plenty of confidence in Fitzpatrick because they
saw how he nearly beat them last year in Buffalo where he started
32 games over the previous two seasons. Fitzpatrick had 80
touchdowns and 64 interceptions in 55 games with the Bills. He also
set Bills records for the longest completion with a 98-yard TD pass
and longest TD rushing by a quarterback with a 31-yarder both in
2009.

The Bills cut Fitzpatrick in March to escape the six-year, $59
million deal he signed in October 2011. The Titans scooped him up
as a cheaper alternative to back up Locker.

Now Fitzpatrick makes his first start Sunday against Kansas City
(4-0). Chiefs coach Andy Reid has seen plenty of Fitzpatrick from
his time coaching in Philadelphia where he said the quarterback got
after his Eagles pretty good.

”So I’m well aware of him, and have a ton of respect for him,
and our team here knows him,” Reid said. ”They played against him
in the past. Everyone knows how capable he is and we’ll prepare
ourselves to play a heck of a quarterback and a heck of an
offense.”

Fitzpatrick is 4-1 against the Chiefs. Munchak has said they
likely will not call run plays like they did for Locker, who is
averaging 6.5 yards a carry this season. Fitzpatrick said he’s
never been a real speedster himself.

”Usually I’m running out of fear because those guys are big,”
Fitzpatrick said.

Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson isn’t buying that talk. He
called the Harvard graduate a smart quarterback who improvises with
his legs just like all the other running quarterbacks.

”He’s been in the league for a while,” Johnson said. ”He
knows when you make a mistake, he can capitalize off it. This isn’t
a regular, backup-type quarterback game for us. He can still run
all their plays.”

Notes: Locker spoke to reporters Wednesday, walking very stiff
and with a neoprene sleeve covering his right leg. He said the
injury was pain like he’d never felt before and with the hip joint
so big he thought about all the worst possibilities. Locker shared
no timetable for his return, saying only that he will be working
hard to get back as soon as possible. … Munchak said the Titans
will promote Rusty Smith off the practice squad to back up
Fitzpatrick at quarterback. … WR Kenny Britt returned to
practice. RB Shonn Greene (right knee) and DT Sammie Hill (right
ankle) worked inside with trainers. DE Ropati Pitoitua (shoulder)
did not practice. RT David Stewart (right leg) got the day off.

AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City contributed to this
report.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker