published Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Wiedmer: Tennessee Titans seek to build on preseason

On the April night in 2011 that the Tennessee Titans made quarterback Jake Locker the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft, the following assessment of his ability appeared on the franchise's own website:

"An extremely gifted athlete, Locker's production (55 percent completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, nine interceptions as a senior for a 7-6 University of Washington team) does not match his talent. He possesses a cannon of an arm but he is not an efficient passer. At this point, his greatest asset is his athleticism and it is unclear if he will ever be a starting quarterback at the next level."

A little more than 16 months later, Locker will be exactly that -- the Titans' starting QB -- when they welcome New England to LP Field this Sunday for the season opener for both teams.

Locker's stats for this preseason, in which the Titans were 3-1? Try 52 percent with two touchdowns and one interception, eerily similar to his senior-season stats with the Huskies.

Yet rather than stick with the wily veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who guided Tennessee to a 9-7 record last season, none other than 89-year-old owner Bud Adams said of the change: "The other guy [Hasselbeck] is a good one too, but he's starting to get a little age on him. He came in and played well for us last year, but Locker did too when he came in. I'm looking forward to him playing."

When an 89-year-old says you're starting to get a little age on you, maybe it really is time to start fresh.

Or maybe the Titans simply believe that Hasselbeck's no better than a 9-7 QB, so better to start the learning curve with Locker sooner than later.

"We know Jake is going to have some ups and downs, as any quarterback does in the NFL," second-year head coach Mike Munchak told the NFL radio network last month. "But he's shown us when he's had a bad day or bad throw, he's come back in that same game and made better decisions and made plays. We feel he's won the position and he's ready to go."

Ironically, Munchak also credited Hasselbeck for making the decision easier.

"Matt is a big reason why Jake is ready to play," Munchak added. "Their relationship is very unique. ... I think he will be a big help to him going forward."

But how far the Titans can go in attempting to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 remains uncertain.

On the one hand they were arguably the most impressive team in the league during the exhibition season. Then again, the last two Super Bowl winners -- Green Bay in 2010 and the New York Giants last year -- went 2-2 in their exhibition schedules.

"The mindset, the talking about it, has been here long enough," wide receiver Nate Washington said early in training camp. "We need to go out and perform properly. I think every guy in this locker room is focused on that goal, making sure they are giving everything they have to get to that point."

Of course, the Giants also went 9-7 last year but slipped into the playoffs and won it all. Sometimes you need to be both lucky and good.

"It should be exciting to see that we have a good young team that's heading in the right direction," Munchak told The Associated Press last week. "There's some things we're not doing well, but we have a whole season to get better at it."

One player who seems to be back to doing everything better than most is running back Chris Johnson, who gained more 2,000 yards in a season early in his career, then slipped to a career-low 1,047 yards last season after a long holdout.

"I want 2,000 yards again, but what I really want is to go to the Super Bowl," Johnson said at the start of camp. "I think this team has the talent to win a lot of games."

Then there's wideout Kenny Britt, who has the talent to become one of the league's top receivers if he can ever stay on the field and out of trouble. Arguably healthy after three offseason knee surgeries, Britt recently was suspended by the league for the New England game for a DUI charge this summer.

What seems certain is that an old mainstay of the Titans' best teams -- unyielding defense -- may again be in place. The many-hued Blue Crew led the AFC exhibition season in points allowed (16.8), and defensive back Michael Griffin is beginning to see similarities to the good old days.

"Not even having to blitz, four-man rush and just watch those guys get after it, it reminds me a lot of when I first got here -- with different names, younger guys," Griffin said.

It's all been enough to bring a confident smile to the head coach.

Said Munchak, who's already in the Hall of Fame as a player, last week: "We feel we have plenty of weapons if we use them all and play right."

Especially if their second-year quarterback could hit those weapons more than 52 percent of the time.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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