Jake Locker watching, waiting as rookie QBs play

First, Jake Locker watched Andy Dalton, and now he’ll get a good

look at Cam Newton. All of the highly drafted quarterbacks are

starting in the NFL except Locker, the eighth pick overall.

And he doesn’t mind.

Locker says he’s not jealous and is just as busy learning as the

others are. He also feels he has a big advantage over the others:

He is studying and learning from 13-year veteran Matt

Hasselbeck.

”I don’t resent them,” Locker said of his fellow rookie

quarterbacks. ”I’m thankful for the opportunity I have here to

learn from Matt and to play behind him and watch the game kind of

through him and understand what he’s thinking, why he’s thinking

it, and I think it’ll make me a better player.”

The Titans liked Locker enough coming out of Washington that

they made him the second quarterback drafted behind only Newton.

Then they signed Hasselbeck to a three-year deal less than 48 hours

after the NFL lockout ended, and the veteran won the starting job

in the preseason. Now, Hasselbeck has thrown for 2,014 yards

through eight games and is on track for the first 4,000-yard

passing season of his career.

That has left Locker watching from the sideline as the only

quarterback of the top five drafted in April not to start at least

one game yet this season.

Both Dalton, the 35th pick overall in the second round, and

Newton, the top pick overall, have started every game for their

teams. Jacksonville turned to Blaine Gabbert (10th overall), while

Christian Ponder (No. 12) is now starting for Minnesota. Locker?

The quarterback many thought might have been the top pick overall

if he left Washington early for the 2010 draft has gotten into only

two blowout losses, completing one of two passes.

The Titans (4-4), who visit Carolina and Newton on Sunday, plan

to stick with Hasselbeck as their starter and let Locker keep

learning from the sideline. Titans coach Mike Munchak said he

thinks it’s tough for Locker sitting because he knows it would be

for himself.

”This is the situation he got drafted into,” Munchak said.

”If we didn’t get Matt, he could be doing what (others) are doing.

But he is a professional, and he is handling it and learning from

Matt. He’ll have plenty of opportunity to prove what he can do, but

unfortunately he is going to have to wait for that to happen. He

has handled it well, and in the long run hopefully it will be

beneficial to him to have waited.”

Letting a rookie quarterback sit and watch rather than throwing

him in immediately might be due to this franchise’s recent

experience. Sure, Vince Young was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the

Year in 2006 but the Titans wound up releasing him after five

seasons. They eased Steve McNair into the starting job, making him

mostly watch for his first two seasons, and he wound up as co-MVP

of the NFL in 2003.

The Titans gave Locker most of the work in practice during their

bye week, and he gets extra snaps when Hasselbeck is given a day

off as he was Wednesday. Locker split the work with Hasselbeck on

Thursday as the Titans tried to make sure the veteran has time to

heal his sore knee. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said Locker

is doing an excellent job in drills and when throwing for the scout

team against the defense.

”Until he gets in a game, there’s nothing like learning in a

game itself,” Palmer said. ”Some quarterbacks, it’s beneficial

for them to start from Day 1 and learn, and it’s beneficial for

other quarterbacks to sit back and watch and observe. Jake and I

talked about it the other day, the fact he’s learning from Matt, I

think, has been tremendous and invaluable.”

Dalton said last week that he wanted to play immediately.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the only surprise with Newton has

been how quickly he developed.

Hasselbeck tries to teach by being himself and letting Locker

decide what works for his own game. Their relationship almost feels

like a mutual admiration society at times. Hasselbeck praises

Locker as having everything someone wants in a quarterback and a

teammate with his loyalty, honesty and athletic talent that might

make him the best player on the field.

”He’s got all kinds of God-given ability, thing you can’t

necessarily coach,” Hasselbeck said in September. ”If he had to

play, if he was on some other team right now and they asked him to

play, I’m sure he would do a fine job.”

Locker said he doesn’t know if the other rookie quarterbacks

have the same kind of relationship he and Rusty Smith have with

Hasselbeck.

”I can just speak from this experience,” Locker said. ”And

from the beginning he’s been nothing but helpful for me and

answered all the questions I’ve asked of him and some that I

haven’t and been able to take a lot of information and knowledge

that he’s gathered over the years and try to work it in as you feel

comfortable with your game.”