Tennessee Titans' coach Mike Munchak insists the best quarterback will win the starting job.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS Tennessee
Throughout the brewing quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, coach Mike Munchak has professed confidence in whoever wins the job.
Hasselbeck, the incumbent, is coming off his best season since 2007, throwing for more than 3,500 yards, a feat made all the more impressive by the loss of receiver Kenny Britt after three games and Hasselbeck having to learn the offense on the fly thanks to the lockout.
Locker, of course, is last year's first-round pick and the quarterback of the future for the
Titans, whenever Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer decide the future becomes now.
When to make a move is a tricky proposition, because the Titans learned the hard way with Vince Young what can happen when a young quarterback plays before he is completely ready. In fairness to Young, he had enough early success to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, but later on, Young's emotional and maturity issues, and being exposed as a one-trick pony in the passing game, all helped lead to his downfall in Tennessee.
Locker certainly appears more mature at this juncture of his career than Young was, and to his benefit, he probably could not have a better mentor in Hasselbeck, who while he wants to start for as long as he can, knows that part of his role is to get Locker ready for when that time comes.
For his part, Munchak indicated that Locker's inexperience won't deter him from picking the second-year pro as his starting quarterback if he clearly wins the job in camp. That is significant, given the immediate respect Hasselbeck commanded in the locker room once he joined the team as a free agent last year.
"I would think that wouldn't be a problem. I think like I said with Jake coming in last year, we all talked about it already, that even though he didn't start, we understand that he is a young football player and obviously Matt has experience," Munchak said. "But these guys know that if we feel like a guy is ready to play that wouldn't hold us back from making that kind of decision because he is a second-year player."
However, even if Locker proves himself ready for the role in preseason, if it is close, the Titans might consider as a secondary factor, the possibility of a tough early-season schedule that begins with New England, Houston and Detroit as a reason to go with the veteran experience of Hasselbeck.
"You have to factor everything in, so sure, you're thinking about that. I could sit here and put a paper of pros and cons of who should start in that first game and there's a lot of reasons for both of them. That would not be influencing why we would do what we do. We've got to go with the guy who is ready to help us win," Munchak said.
Locker did not start any games as a rookie for the Titans, but played well in relief appearances. He is now busy learning the nuances of the offensive playbook, just like Hasselbeck.
"Just having OTAs gives you the opportunity to kind of fine tune and refine some of the things you're doing. I don't know if it's new stuff, but it's really kind of starting to own it and understand how to be successful in it," Locker said.
The biggest thing for the Titans could be when they make the switch to make sure the move is permanent and that they are willing to allow Locker to grow into the job the way Steve McNair was allowed to beginning in 1998.
--Wide receiver Kenny Britt returned to the field to do run some sprints for the first time since his follow-up procedure on his right knee. Britt underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee to repair his ACL and MCL back in October.
Britt removed his brace and ran five 100-yard sprints on Thursday, June 7, but did not do any cutting or running routes. He, however, is eager to do more and be ready by the start of training camp, if possible.
"I want to be ready by camp, to tell you the truth. I don't want to go out there with a helmet and shoulder pads on the first week of the season and not be on the same page with Matt (Hasselbeck) or Jake (Locker)," Britt said.
That might be a bit optimistic, according to coach Mike Munchak, who will ease his star receiver back into action cautiously.
"He's kind of back to where he was almost before he had the scope, and probably by next week, he'll feel he's back to where he was," Munchak said. "It's just a matter of how his knee responds to cutting and running routes over the next month. There's nothing to say it wouldn't go well. When he gets to camp, he'll be limited obviously, but we'll start inserting him into drills and maybe 7-on-7 where there's not much contact, and he can get his confidence back. Then, we'll have a feel for where he's at."
--Cornerback Tommie Campbell, a one-time janitor in the Pittsburgh airport, is making a serious bid for playing time as the team's third cornerback. Campbell is an outside corner, but in Jerry Gray's system, he would come onto the field in nickel packages, while starter Alterraun Verner becomes the nickel back.
For Campbell, it has been about taking his craft seriously, as many in the organization have noticed his work habits this offseason.
"Toward the middle of last year, that's how I started approaching things," Campbell said. "That's when I learned how to become a professional and to develop every day. When I was working at the airport, it was eight hours every day, so it's possible for me to come over here for at least five (hours).
"I've watched everything, but I was watching what the opposing teams did, route combinations and things like that. I want to develop into an all-around cornerback and not just a one-year wonder," he said. "I feel like I can continue to get better every day and take the coaching from coach (Brett) Maxie and coach (Steve) Brown."
--Wide receiver Kendall Wright was such a quick study in learning the X receiver position that the Titans are now going ahead with plans to let him learn multiple spots, including the Z and F spots.
"I like getting moved around because it creates different matchups. I like getting on the safety, because it creates different matchups for everybody out there," the Titans' first-round pick said.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said originally he wanted Wright not to be overloaded with too much, but now has changed his tune regarding Wright's acumen for picking up the playbook.
"He's doing an excellent job. He's learning the system. We started this week moving him to another position," Palmer said. "He did such a good job the first week in showing everybody what he could do, so now we're starting him with other spots, too."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"The biggest thing we've got to do is get the other guys up to speed. To me, it's a process, because now you're the guy, and it speeds up." - Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray on getting Tommie Campbell up to speed as a third cornerback.