Saturday, June 15, 2013

Jake Locker behind the eight ball as Tennessee Titans season nears

Titans have a long way to go and a short time to get there.

The 2013 National Football League regular season is still months away, but no single player in the league has more riding on it than Tennessee Titans’ quarterback Jake Locker.
This will be his third season, and it may be make-or-break time for him. This may not be fair, but in the instant success world of the NFL, results are demanded now rather than later.
The success of rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck have put additional pressure on Locker as they proved inexperienced quarterbacks can lead the turnaround of bad teams. Luck piloted the Indianapolis Colts to an 11-5 record just one season after the team imploded at 2-14. Also, Griffin led the Redskins to their first playoff appearance in years.
This leaves Locker with a lot to prove. In his first season, he was brought along slowly as he learned from veteran Matt Hasselbeck. Last year, he was handed the starting job and the results were mixed. He suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder in the opening game loss to New England, and it hampered him all season.
He only started 11 games, posting a 4-7 record. He also threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10).
However, in his defense, the Titans were a bad team on both sides of the ball last season. The team finished 6-10, but since four of those wins were by four points or less, the team was perilously close to going 2-14.
The defense ranked dead last in the league in points allowed (471). In eight games, the team gave up 30 points or more, and opponents eclipsed the 50-point level twice. It does not get much worse on the professional level.
Still, expectations are high for Locker this year, and if he does not show improvement, his future in Tennessee could become limited. The Titans certainly demonstrated this in their numerous offseason personnel moves.
Despite the enormous problems on defense, the Titans invested considerably on free agents for the offense, as well as several draft picks. The Titans shocked many by spending their first two picks in the draft on offensive players (guard Chance Warmack from Alabama and wide receiver Justin Hunter from Tennessee).
Additionally, the team brought in several offensive free agents that will diversify the unit. Guard Andy Levitre, tight end Delanie Walker, and power running back Shonn Greene bring quality where the Titans were lacking last year. Greene, especially, should provide a much needed change of pace to speedster Chris Johnson who often danced his way into trouble in short yardage situations. Johnson clearly is still the number one running back, but Greene brings an added dimension.
Though the team has also brought in several free agents on the defensive side, it is clear the Titans are looking at an improved offense as a way to keep the defense off the field. After all, if an opponent does not have the ball, it makes it pretty tough for them to score.
This brings us back to Locker. Clearly, he has been given the resources to do his job. An influx of talent has been inserted into an underachieving offensive line. Quality depth has been brought to the backfield and wide receiver unit. Plus, Walker should provide more consistency than the departed Jared Cook at tight end.
The ball is clearly in Locker’s court. If he does not produce early, will the Titans give him a quick hook?  The team opens with road games at Pittsburgh and at Houston. This is a tough assignment under normal circumstances, but given the pressure on Locker, the stakes are much higher.
Remember, the Titans brought in former Buffalo starter Ryan Fitzpatrick to back him up. If the season goes bad early, the backup quarterback often becomes the most popular player on the team with fans.
Because of this, there will be plenty of intrigue in Nashville this autumn. After last year’s debacle, the coaching staff is under pressure to show significant improvement. Locker’s success or failure will impact many people.
When training camp starts, there will be more pressure than normal, and the spotlight will be white hot on Locker.

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