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Notebook: Jake Locker Knowing When to Throw & When to Go Helping Titans

Posted Sep 26, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chris Johnson thought he was about to have company.

The running back with an NFL-record six rushing touchdowns of 80 or more yards thought Titans quarterback Jake Locker was about to record his first last Sunday against the Chargers.

On a play that started from Tenneessee’s 19-yard line, Locker faked a handoff, checked for an open receiver and saw grass that was more open. He broke two tackles on the 39-yard gain before being dragged down by his jersey on the longest offensive play of the game.

Johnson’s most recent long run (a franchise-record 94-yarder) came last season against the New York Jets, who visit LP Field at 3:05 p.m. Sunday. He said Locker “did a pretty good job” of using his legs to help the offense in addition to completing 23 of 37 passes for 299 yards, including the winning 34-yard TD pass to rookie Justin Hunter with 15 seconds left in the game.

“The long run he had, I thought he was almost going to break it for an 80-yard one, but Jake is a very athletic guy and anytime it breaks down and we need a first down, we know he can get the first down with his legs,” Johnson said.

The third-year pro had a career-high 68 rushing yards on five attempts. Two of the plays — including a 7-yard touchdown run — were designed runs and three were scrambles.

In his second full season as a starter, Locker is showing an understanding of when to throw and when to go. His mobility can help him extend plays to find receivers who have used the extra time to find holes in a zone or elude defenders, or he can produce explosive plays like his career long from Sunday’s game.

“You’ve got to be aware of where guys are. It’s nice when it’s as open as it was the other day,” Locker said. “It’s something that’s been a strength of mine my whole career, and coaches encourage me to use it in spots when it’s effective. Don’t rely on it, but use it as one of my strengths, and something they’ve got to prepare for and be conscious of and make them defend it.”

Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Thursday that Locker’s increased confidence and knowledge of the offense have allowed him to have a better field presence this season.

“I think when you watch him, he’s confident in the pocket and is able to go through his progressions, which he did a great job last week of going from 1 to 2 to 3 to tuck it down and run,” Loggains said. “I think that as he sees more coverages, as he learns the offense better and better each week, he’ll feel more comfortable doing that stuff because that’s certainly a weapon that every team has to account for and that will help our passing game because those guys are very aware of what he’s doing. As he gets better with that stuff, he’ll be a better quarterback.”

Four plays after the 39-yard scramble, Locker came up with another impressive act of elusiveness. The play was a bootleg and he was quickly confronted by an unblocked defender but reversed directions and turned what appeared to be a likely sack into a 10-yard gain.

Jake Locker is using is legs on scrambles and designed run plays, as well as to buy time to find receivers on pass plays. Slideshow from last week.

Locker said he wants to keep improving on knowing when to buy time and when to gain ground.

“I definitely feel more comfortable, when I felt a couple times on Sunday, that (the pocket) pushed up and I saw a lane and was able to get positive yards and positive plays for us so, you know, kind of trying to play with that feeling, I guess an instinct, rather than trying to make it happen or trying to create it,” Locker said. “It’s reacting to what the play gives you.”

Receiver Nate Washington, who had a career high 131 yards on eight catches said Locker’s “doing an awesome job” and keeping his eyes downfield to find receivers.

“If there’s a play to be made with his arm, he’s going to make it, but if he has to run, he’s going to scramble. I think he’s putting a lot of defenses on their heels,” Washington said. “Anytime you’re facing a scrambling quarterback, you know, (Colin) Kaepernick, (Russell) Wilson, these young guys that are coming into this league that are able to make moves and get down the field with their feet, I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on defenses. Luckily we have one of those guys in our locker room. I’m pretty sure he’ll continue to put those things out there when he has to. Jake’s a playmaker and that’s what we expect of him. He prides himself on anything he can do to help us win.”

JOHNSON “SO CLOSE” TO LONG ONE: Johnson is leading the AFC in rushing yards (256) on 69 carries this season. He’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry, and Johnson and the Titans are pleased by the consistency (he’s had games of 70, 96 and 90 yards).

Johnson’s long run has increased each week from 11 to 16 to 23 yards last week, and he feels like another big one will be coming soon, but he’s not forcing it.

“It makes me want to get even more, but I know I can’t go out looking for the long run,” Johnson said. “I’ve just got to let it come to me. I feel like it’s coming. Every game we’re so close. I know it’s going to pop soon.”

Tight end Delanie Walker said he thinks the speedy running back is getting close.

“Every time I block somebody, I start looking to see if he’s gone,” Walker said. “I hear the crowd cheering and I’m thinking that’s it.”

Although the last one came against the Jets, Johnson said he’s expecting yards to be tough to gain.

“You know every game you wish you had a big, long run but you know anytime playing against the Jets that it’s going to be a tough game,” Johnson said. “They’ve got a lot of young athletic guys that get to the ball, so we’ve got to stay on our keys and keep working.”

Coach Mike Munchak said the Titans benefitted with Johnson’s 94-yarder because of aggressiveness from the Jets, who held Johnson to 28 yards on his other 20 carries last season.

“That was the case that they had eight that went up in the box and we were backed up. They were playing the run, and they just didn’t fit it right. That’s what happens,” Munchak said. “Usually when an offensive play breaks out there, someone didn’t do their job right on defense. That led to good blocking, but, it was a guy we didn’t block that should have made the play and didn’t. CJ (Chris Johnson) makes a good run, and that’s what you’re capable of. Those are the things that when you play a good defense — they are going to have emphasis on stopping the run — that when there are openings like that one, we have to do what he did in that game and get a big run.”

BRITT LIMITED: Receiver Kenny Britt, who suffered neck and rib injuries against San Diego, was limited in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.

“We want him out there, no doubt about it,” said Munchak, adding that the Titans will see how Britt responds Friday in deciding if and how much the receiver would play against the Jets. Munchak said the evaluation will include Britt’s health and the amount of reps, equating the decision to when Tennessee withheld Damian Williams in Week 2 because of a hamstring.

INJURY UPDATES: David Stewart (calf) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring) were limited Thursday, but Munchak expects them to be available for Sunday’s game.

Patrick Bailey (hamstring) Moise Fokou (neck), Shonn Greene (knee), Sammie Hill (ankle) and Delanie Walker (toe) did not practice Thursday. Munchak is optimistic that Walker will practice Friday, and said the team will see how Bailey and Fokou are Friday. Greene is out and Hill is questionable, Munchak said.

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