Jake Locker said on Tuesday that head coach Mike Munchak’s decision to start him on Friday at Tampa Bay in the Tennessee Titans’ second preseason game wasn’t a big deal.
Somehow, it feels differently.
The palpable excitement on Locker’s face in video posted on the team’s website contrasted with 2011 starter Matt Hasselbeck’s initial downcast manner, though Hasselbeck said all of the right things and downplayed the situation.
By the time the game ends, the Titans will have been through three weeks of camp — roughly half way towards their season opener against New England at LP Field. Logic would dictate that a decision is coming soon.
The third preseason game is the most important, the only one for which teams game plan. The sooner the Titans make a decision, the more Locker would stand to benefit. He would gain more repetitions in practice with the first team and have more opportunity to work on chemistry with the team’s receivers. Playing most of the third game at home against Arizona could be a huge benefit to what would amount to a first-time NFL starting quarterback.
For Hasselbeck, 36, a long-time NFL starter, the decision could linger for longer without seemingly having as much of an effect on his play come the start of the season.
Yet Hasselbeck seemed to say that he would not be surprised if a decision came down soon.
“Sure,” Hasselbeck said on video posted on the team website, “there are time frames that are typical for an NFL team to do playing time and preseason decisions like that.”
But he said he is not trying to look at a calendar or take a “global” view. He said he is trying to stack one good day upon another and not try to make the same mistakes twice.
In last Saturday’s 27-17 loss at Seattle, Locker outplayed Hasselbeck. If he does it again this week, the job could be his.
Hasselbeck, the former Seahawks’ starter who led the franchise to its only Super Bowl berth in 2005-06, said he was disappointed to play the way he did against his former team. He wanted to have three throws back — two interceptions and a batted screen pass — but he admitted that is impossible. One of the interceptions was first hit by a Titans receiver’s hands, but the end result was a 5-for-9 effort for 45 yards with no touchdowns and a 29.6 rating.
Locker, on the other hand, completed 7-of-13 throws for 80 yards and also did not throw a touchdown but he stayed freer of mistakes, with no interceptions. He finished with a 72.6 rating.
Locker said that having a full offseason under his belt has made him feel more comfortable. He’s looking forward to more time with the first-team offense, but he says that’s just an extension of what the Titans have done for all of training camp, with him and Hasselbeck alternating their time with the first and second teams, more often by day.
The Titans’ coaching staff keeps playing the quarterback competition down the middle in regards to public comments, as offensive coordinator Chris Palmer did when addressing a question as to whether Hasselbeck is “pressing.”
“I think both guys have pressed a little bit at times and you just have to remind them to stay within the system,” Palmer said. “Matt said ‘Hey, I got greedy on that play.’ As long as you understand that as a quarterback that you stepped off reservation and you need to get back on the reservation to keep things going.”
But on an objective basis, Palmer is not afraid to point certain things out. Like the fact that Locker has thrown fewer interceptions during camp (this comprises all throws in “competitive” drills, such as 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s) than he did last year. Palmer said Locker threw 10 last year and has only thrown three or four so far.
Locker said he is not paying much attention to those numbers.
“I’m not into stats,” he said. “There’s one stat that matters. So, you know, completion percentage and such doesn’t matter much to me. At the end of the day, you want to win games. Whether you’re completing quote-unquote what you need to be completing percentage-wise or you’re finding ways to win games, I don’t think there’s any difference between the two. So I don’t put a lot of weight into that and I never will.”
Locker will not be judged as much by statistics. He can win more with his feet than Hasselbeck can when plays break down or when he sees some space down field. For Hasselbeck, the stats could matter more and after the first game they don’t look very good.
Palmer said against the Buccaneers he wants to see Locker’s “continued growth as a player.”
“Be in a situation where he manages the situation,” Palmer said. “He hasn’t started a game in over a year, so now he’s going to be the starter and how is he going react to being a starter? Is he going to be under control and handling the situation or is he nervous? It’ll be interesting to see how all of that unfolds.”
If he’s not nervous and if he handles the situation, he could be a lot closer to winning the job.