NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker understands the territory that comes with being a starting quarterback in the NFL.
That’s especially so for the former No. 8 overall draft pick in 2011 of the Tennessee Titans, who immediately ordained him heir apparent as franchise quarterback. Now that he has finally become entrenched as the starter in his third season, Locker also realizes that he has now become the face of the organization as well.
In as much, Locker and wife Lauren have formed the Pass It On Foundation, a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, ” … hopes to have a positive impact on the lives of 100,000 chronically or critically ill children, or family members impacted by illness, in middle Tennessee by the end of 2015.”
Locker said it was just the right thing to do.
“Having the opportunity to give back is something that we are all called to do,” he said. “When you are given an awesome platform throughout the time you have the opportunity to play in the NFL, I think you are wasting it if you don’t try to impact peoples’ lives positively with it.
“I am just really excited about the opportunity that we will get through this foundation and the lives that we will be able to effect here in middle Tennessee.”
The foundation’s first fundraiser is being called “Titans & T-Bones” and will be held Nov. 18 at The Rosewall event facility in Nashville. Locker and Titans teammates will become celebrity waiters, while there will also be a silent auction. Starting Friday, reservation requests can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
“I just thought it was the right time for my wife and I,” Locker said of starting the Pass It On Foundation. “And we are really excited about the opportunity to support people here in middle Tennessee. And I think it is going to be a great way to do it with some fun events and be able to impact some families and some kids in this area.”
Locker said he was feeling fine but still a little bit sore after returning to action in Sunday’s home loss to the 49ers. He had missed the two previous games because of hip and knee sprains suffered in the win over the Jets on Sept. 29.
“I feel pretty good,” said Locker, who completed 25-of-41 passes for 326 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 92.1 rating in his return. He also rushed for 29 yards on three carries.
“I came through it without anything real big,” he added. “My leg felt good.”
But he also welcomes the upcoming bye this weekend before returning to action a week from Sunday at St. Louis while trying to help the Titans snap a three-game-losing streak.
“I am excited for these two weeks just to kind of getting back to feeling really, really good and get back out there,” he said.
Returner Reynaud sent packing
After seven games of inconsistent play and two major gaffes, the Titans released kickoff and punt returner Darius Reynaud.
Last Sunday, he muffed a punt late in the game that was recovered by the 49ers in the end zone for a touchdown. The Titans had pulled within 24-10 in the fourth quarter and had regained some momentum before the turnover turned it into a 21-point deficit. In the season opener at Pittsburgh, he fielded the opening kickoff just past the goal line, but returned to the end zone to kneel down for a safety.
“When you’re a specialist, you’re here to do one thing mainly, and you have to do it well,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said of Reynaud’s release. “If you don’t, everyone knows it, and you can’t kind of … have someone else take your spot. It’s one of those things where you either pass or fail.”
Last season, Reynaud averaged 13.2 yards on punt returns and returned two for touchdowns in the same game. This season, he is averaging 7.5 yards per punt return with no scores. On kick returns in 2012, he averaged 23.4 yards per return, including one for 105 yards for a touchdown. This season, he was averaging 23.7 with a long return of 40 yards.
“Early I thought some things happened to him that were some gray area stuff, that he wasn’t necessarily making great decisions, but he kind of balanced it out so we felt it was worth going forward,” Munchak said.
“He reached a point where I think confidence became an issue and when you see that … it’s a problem.”
Fourth-year wide receiver Damian Williams is expecting to take over both punt and kickoff return roles, unless the Titans sign a return specialist via free agency or make a trade.
Costly penalties adding up
In Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, the Titans were flagged for 10 penalties for 100 yards. That trailed only the 11 penalties for 116 yards they committed in the win over San Diego on Sept. 22.
The Titans have been penalized more times than their opponent in five of seven games and had more penalty yardage in four of those outings. For the season, they average 7.5 penalties per game for 65 yards.
“I’ll guarantee you, I’ll watch the tape” Munchak said, “and it will be a bunch of holding calls that they didn’t call on both sides. You have to be smart with your hands and your body language.”
Munchak contended that it’s all about the player knowing not only how to get away with a penalty, but also sell one to game officials that might have happened to them.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. ” … A lot of it’s luck, too. You have to be smart with your hands. You have to be smart as an actor. You have to play the game a little bit out there.”
Managing the bye week
Under terms of the NFL’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, players get off Thursday through Sunday during a team’s bye week. After practicing Monday, Munchak also gave the players off Tuesday and Wednesday.
Next week, they settle into the normal game-week routine, reporting Monday, taking Tuesday off and then back to work the remainder of the week before flying to St. Louis on Saturday for Sunday’s game.
“It’s highly unlikely that you get anything done on a Tuesday,” Munchak said of the bye week. “I tried that two years ago, and it was a waste of time, I felt.”
Varying degrees of injuries to multiple players played a role in letting the team off two extra days this week.
“That’s the thing you have to look at,” Munchak said. “What’s best for this team? Is it rest, mental and physical rest? Even in Wednesday’s practice last week, we had 12-15 guys that didn’t practice. So you’re not going to get the work.”