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Notebook: Inspired by Jake Locker, Titans Begin Work with Ryan Fitzpatrick

Posted Oct 2, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans players drew inspiration from one quarterback and began on-field collaboration with another Wednesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

Starter Jake Locker, who suffered hip and knee sprains last Sunday that forced him to leave the game against the New York Jets on a cart and one night in the hospital, showed that he wouldn’t stay down long. Locker joined teammates on the field to watch part of practice and participated in his weekly media session.

Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who relieved Locker Sunday and is scheduled to start in his place, also participated in a media session, but said his most important communication Wednesday was with receivers so they can quickly develop a rhythm as the Titans (3-1) prepare to host the Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) at noon (CT) Sunday at LP Field.

Locker was injured after attempting a pass in the third quarter. Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson hit Locker from the front left, and the third-year pro spun backward and planted his right foot just before he was struck from the other direction by Jets linebacker Quinton Coples. Locker reached for his hip as he went to the ground.

“It was painful. I had never really felt anything like it. It feels a lot better now after a couple of days of letting it settle down,” Locker said. “I knew it was something with my hip and figured it was a big area, a big joint and just thinking about all the worst things that could happen.”

Locker said he had soreness, but “it wasn’t too painful” the next morning, which gave him hope. He and the Titans, however, needed to wait until swelling subsided for a second and more conclusive MRI on Tuesday that revealed the hip sprain instead of an injury that would require surgery.

Locker began rehabilitation Monday but is expected to miss “a few weeks.”

“I’m going to work as hard as I can. I want to be out there next week,” Locker said. “I want to be out there this week, so I’m going to do everything I can to get out there as quick as possible, and what that timetable is, I really don’t know but I’m going to do everything I can within my power to get out there as soon as I can.”

Receiver Nate Washington said he’s come to expect that level of resiliency from Locker, who missed five starts last season because of a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.

“I said this after the game, as long as it wasn’t permanent damage, meaning no breaks or anything like that, I knew he was going to be up and walking around,” Washington said. “It’s just the attitude in him. He’s a fighter. He’s a competitor.

“When you hear they really couldn’t find anything, you know right away that it will take a couple of weeks and he’ll be back out there doing Jake-type of things,” Washington added. “(I’m) very happy to have him in our locker room. There’s a reason why he’s a captain; he’s always going to show his toughness. I think that position kind of gets criticized a lot for not being tough, but he’s definitely one of the toughest.”

Fitzpatrick, a nine-year NFL veteran, was brought in this offseason to mentor Locker while being an experienced backup. Sunday will be his 69th start and first with Tennessee. Fitzpatrick said the switch from starter to backup has been a little difficult, but was a role he “fully accepted.” The Titans want Fitzpatrick to shift seamlessly back to the starter’s role as long as Locker’s out.

“With Jake going down, and the way that he has started the season, he’s played really well and I thought he was getting better each week,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s unfortunate I have to step in because of an injury to him, but I’m excited about it as a player. … This is another opportunity for me to go out there and lead the team and hopefully bring us a win.”

Ryan Fitzpatrick is scheduled to start in place of Jake Locker against Kansas City, and the Titans plan to elevate Rusty Smith from their practice squad to back up Fitzpatrick.

TITANS USING PATIENCE ON ROSTER MOVE: The Titans plan to elevate Rusty Smith to their second string quarterback and are likely to wait until their deadline of Saturday to do so for multiple reasons.

The Titans don’t plan to use the injured reserve/designated to return option on Locker because it would require him to be shelved for a minimum of eight weeks and they wouldn’t want him to be out longer than he has to be. Therefore, promoting Smith from the practice squad to the 53-man roster will require the removal of another player from the 53-man roster, which Munchak said will be a difficult decision.

“I think just to be smart and it’s going to be a hard thing to do, so it was more of let things go out this week and see if we don’t do something else now and then something happen or someone get hurt or something silly happen that we move before we have to,” Munchak said.

The fact that Smith is already with the team enables him to take as many snaps as the Titans want while he is still a member of the practice squad, allowing him to prepare as if his promotion has already occurred.

BRITT, BAILEY BACK IN ACTION: Munchak said Kenny Britt “had a really good practice” Wednesday. Britt missed last week’s game because of rib and neck injuries he suffered against San Diego in Week 3, but is likely to be available this week.

“He caught a bunch of balls, was diving all over the place,” Munchak said. “I think he’s got his confidence in his health back. I think his shoulder and neck are as good as can be, so we’re expecting him to contribute and play well. Hopefully this will be his best game of the year.”

Munchak said linebacker and special teams captain Patrick Bailey (hamstring) practiced and should be fine to return for Sunday’s game.

INJURY UPDATES: Munchak is hoping that Shonn Greene (knee) and Sammie Hill (ankle) will be able to do some individual football drills this week, but neither was ready for that Wednesday.

“I think they did some things with the trainers as far as running and moving but not (at practice). If we can’t get them out here (Thursday), then it’s going to be hard for them to play Sunday,” Munchak said. “They both haven’t done something in so long that if we can’t get them out here tomorrow, then it’s going to be hard to say they can help us Sunday.”

David Stewart (calf), Ropati Pitoitua (shoulder) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring) aslo did not practice Wednesday. Stewart is likely to return Thursday, and Munchak said Pitoitua and Wreh-Wilson are recovering well.

“(Pitoitua’s) shoulder was sore after the game. He’s a lot better than he was on Monday,” Munchak said. “There’s nothing wrong medically, as far as that goes, but just general soreness, so (we wanted to) rest him the last couple of days.

“(Wreh-Wilson is) actually a lot better than we thought he’d be. He’s doing well. It’s just a matter of hamstrings,” Munchak said. “He was doing well and kind of got pushed from behind and irritated it at the end of the game on special teams, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

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