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Notebook: Jake Locker, Titans Prep for Steelers Blitzes

Posted Sep 4, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker said Wednesday that he’s most impressed by the way Pittsburgh’s defensive players silently communicate and function within their system.

Although the teams have met in each of the past five seasons, the Titans’ third-year pro QB has yet to play a snap against the Steelers. Locker did not play in his rookie season when Tennessee lost 38-17 at Pittsburgh or last season because of a shoulder injury when the Titans defeated the Steelers 26-23.

Locker, who won the starting job in training camp in 2012, has always prepared as if he were starting even if he knew he wasn’t, so this is the third time he’s prepped for Pittsburgh.

“What stands out is how well they play together, their communication, without having to talk, their comfort with the guy next to them,” Locker said. “They understand and know the rules of their defense so well and you can see it when you watch film. They’re all on the same page always and they play as a unit really well.”

A small part of the preparations also includes looking at what Pittsburgh does before the snap when players bluff what they might be doing to cause an adjustment that creates an opportunity to bring pressure from elsewhere.

“They try and show you some different things before the snap and play with protections, so that’s something we’re going to have to be on top of as well,” Locker said.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said he doesn’t think the pre-snap activity will be too impactful.  

“You just have to have confidence in what you’re doing and feel comfortable that they’re going to do a lot of things, show one thing and do another, just like most teams do, but we’ll be fine,” Munchak said. “That’s not something that would concern us, but we’ve just got to believe in what we do and go out and do it.”

The Steelers’ defense finished first in the NFL in yards allowed (275.8), passing yards allowed (185.2) and first downs allowed (17.1), and second in rushing yards allowed (90.6) per game in 2012.

One tactic Pittsburgh deploys is zone blitzing, where it drops players who start the play near the line of scrimmage (often outside linebackers in their 3-4 defensive front) into coverage and brings pressure from other areas.

“You saw more of it in college,” Locker said, “but they do such a good job with the 3-4 front that the guys they’re dropping out are linebackers and they’re good in space and play the pass well, so I think you see it a little more from them than other teams in the NFL.”

Munchak said when the Titans have had better results against the Steelers when they have “blocked it well and given the quarterback maybe a little more time than the defense expects him to have.”

Locker’s mobility, which Steelers coach Mike Tomlin complimented during his conference call Wednesday, should also help.

Locker finished his first full preseason as Tennessee’s starter 33-of-49 passing (67.3 percent) for 338 yards with one TD, no interceptions and a passer rating of 93.7, which was 22 points higher than his passer rating from a year ago. He added 35 rushing yards on seven attempts and showed increased comfort with the system designed by offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.

“Obviously, he is a talented young player,” Tomlin said. “I’m really impressed by his mobility, his accuracy on the move that he has displayed in the preseason.  We have some concerns about containing him.  Obviously, when you watch those plays both in the preseason and late last year, his mobility and his escapability is a part of what they do both by design and by ad lib.  That is something you have to be concerned about if you are around defense.”

WRIGHT’S TRACK: Receiver Kendall Wright, who suffered a knee injury at Cincinnati during the second preseason game, has been practicing since Saturday and said he doesn’t expect to be limited at all by the injury that was estimated as having a recovery time of three to six weeks.

“I’m still going to treatment. I was discouraged (when it happened), was supposed to have been out for six weeks but my treatment and rehab and staying positive helped,” Wright said. “They said six and it could possibly be three, but my goal was to play the first game and that’s where I am. I’m ready to play, and I’ll be 100 percent. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t play. I wouldn’t do anything that would hurt the team, so I feel pretty good about it.”

Wright led the Titans and tied for the NFL rookie lead with 64 receptions in 2012. Those totals included six catches for 71 yards, including a 35-yarder, against Pittsburgh.

AYERS IN ACTION: Linebacker Akeem Ayers, who suffered a sprained ankle at Cincinnati, was somewhat limited in practice Wednesday but participated in multiple periods, Munchak said.

“He had some soreness but I don’t think it’s something that will keep him from playing. I think it’s more of just getting used to playing through it a little bit,” Munchak said. “It may be a couple of weeks before he’s how he was before he got hurt, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play and play well.

“That’s where he’s got to find that comfort, that mental comfort, and toughness of working through injuries,” Munchak continued. “That’s the part he’s trying to do now because you can’t pass rush and tackle until you get out here and he did quite a bit of that. He did a little bit each period.”

CAPTAINS SELECTED: Munchak again allowed players’ votes to determine captains for 2013. Jason McCourty and Locker were selected for the second straight season by teammates who also voted for veterans Michael Roos, Nate Washington, Patrick Bailey and free agent addition Bernard Pollard.

The maximum number of captains is six, and Munchak said he likes the blend of guys who were chosen.

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