NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the first time in three seasons, Jake Locker entered the preseason as the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback.
Consequently, the Titans are expecting the former first-round draft pick, who beat out veteran Matt Hasselbeck for the starting nod last year during training camp, to take hold of the quarterback reins and lead an offense that sputtered mightily last season.
On Thursday night, Locker saw more action than expected in the Titans’ 22-21 loss to the Washington Redskins in the preseason opener for both teams. In the first half, he played five offensive series and all but one play, guiding the Titans to two first-half touchdowns. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 58 yards and a modest 77.1 passer efficiency rating.
“We moved the ball well,” said Locker, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010 who played only 11 games last season because of a shoulder injury. “. . . That was our goal, just to come out and build momentum, have some drives and put 14 points on the board.”
One of those scoring drives, though, was of the one-play variety, thanks to fifth-year running back Chris Johnson, who raced 58 yards untouched for a touchdown on the team’s second series. The jaunt included a nifty cutback at the line of scrimmage and then a juke on would-be tackler Bacarri Rambo, the Redskins’ rookie free safety who whiffed on the play in the open field.
“It’s very encouraging,” Johnson said of the ground game thus far in training camp. “We’ve been doing a great job in practices, just making our reads and going to the lanes that our offensive line is creating. It’s just a situation that we want to continue to get better and better every week.”
On the third offensive series, Locker guided the Titans on a nine-play, 61-yard scoring drive, getting the final 19 yards on a scoring scamper by running back Shonn Greene off left tackle. For the drive, Locker completed all three pass attempts.
“I thought our run game looked really good,” Locker said. “We were able to convert in clutch situations, on third downs and in our passing game. It was really good for our first time out, I felt, and things that we can build on.”
While the Titans have been waiting for Locker to become their franchise quarterback, the Redskins are just waiting for theirs to return to the field. Although he dressed and participated with the team Thursday night in pregame drills, Robert Griffin III did not play, as expected.
Recovering from a knee injury suffered in the 2012 playoffs, and the subsequent surgery seven months ago, Griffin has participated in all training camp sessions on a limited basis. Although he won’t play in any of Washington’s four preseason games, Griffin has stated he wants to start the season opener Sept. 9 against the Eagles.
But Thursday night, Griffin watched as backup quarterback Kirk Cousins started the game for the Redskins and played two series. On the second series, he guided the Redskins on a seven-play, 64-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 3-yard scoring pass to tight end Fred Davis. Before giving way to third-stringer Rex Grossman, Cousins completed 6 of 7 passes for 62 yards and an efficiency rating of 137.2.
“Just a little inconsistent on offense,” said coach Mike Munchak, whose Titans had their preseason home win streak snapped at 12 games. They hadn’t lost in the preseason since 2007, but also haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.
“. . . Solid effort, but could be a little better,” Munchak added. “That’s what the preseason’s for.”
Other Redskins starters of note other than Griffin who did not play Thursday night included running back Alfred Morris, wide receiver Pierre Garcon, cornerback DeAngelo Hall, strong safety Brandon Meriweather, left tackle Trent Williams and nose tackle Barry Cofield.
Projected starters for the Titans who did not play included middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, right tackle David Stewart, tight end Delanie Walker and kicker Rob Bironas.
The Redskins knotted the score at 14-14 just before halftime when Grossman led a 12-play, 84-yard drive that was capped by an 8-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. While taking most of his team’s snaps, Grossman completed 10 of 21 passes for 119 yards.
“We’re not where we need to be,” Titans fourth-year defensive end Derrick Morgan said of the defense. “I know a lot of guys have high expectations for us on defense. We just need to keep working and look on the tape and see what we can get better at.”
On their first offensive series, the Titans went three downs and out. Locker threw behind receiver Kenny Britt on an incomplete pass over the middle on second down before being sacked for a 7-yard loss on third down.
The Redskins started three rookies — Rambo, cornerback David Amerson and strong safety Phillip Thomas — in the secondary.
“They all look the part,” Cofield said of the young defenders. “They’re all willing to learn, and they’re all humble kids. If they continue to work, our future is bright.”
After neither team scored in the third quarter, the Titans took the lead at 21-14 midway through the fourth quarter. Third-string quarterback Rusty Smith connected with fullback Quinn Johnson on a 9-yard scoring pass.
But the Redskins answered to take the lead with 2:23 to play when quarterback Pat White capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 9-yard scoring run. Washington got the game winner when White connected with tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi with a pass for a two-point conversion.
“It was unfortunate it ended the way it did,” said Munchak, whose team opens the season at Pittsburgh on Sept. 8. “. . . There were a lot of good things to build on. But it was a good solid start.”
The Titans return to preseason action a week from Saturday at Cincinnati, while Washington plays host to Pittsburgh a week from Monday.