NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans treated 2012 as an election year contrary to most that we’ve come to expect.
Unlike the divide-and-conquer essence of political campaigns, the Titans wanted to unite 52 players around the starting quarterback. It turns out, there are 51 players united with two quarterbacks, but only one can be the starter.
Instead of political candidates who opt to tear down their competitors,
“Those two truly care about the other one on much more than a football level, and I don’t know that I could do that if I was competing with someone for a job,” said quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who keenly watched the competition between Locker, a second-year pro, and Hasselbeck, a 14-year veteran.
“The dynamic was very interesting to see how people can compete for the same position and still be friends,” Loggains said. “I think that says a lot about their character and the type of people they are, the job their parents did of raising them. That has been the most unique storyline to me in this competition: you’ve got two good players. We weren’t going to be wrong, no matter who played.”
The Titans elected Locker as the starter in August after observing and evaluating many factors. Titans coach Mike Munchak and Loggains said Locker and Hasselbeck provided them with two great choices, but the consensus is that Locker is ready for Sunday’s season-opener against the New England Patriots at LP Field.
Munchak announced on Aug. 20 that Locker had been chosen. Moments later Locker addressed the media for the first time as the starting quarterback.
Locker walked to the microphone wearing the same camouflage Crocs he wore while he and teammates shot basketballs with high school students before the Titans’ joint practice with the Atlanta Falcons in Georgia two weeks earlier. He stressed that his approach and demeanor wouldn’t change even though his job title did. Locker prepared as a starter in 2011, which enabled him to show potential in significant action in three games last season when injuries sidelined Hasselbeck.
“We were surprised at how well he did for not playing, at how well he moved the team; he brought excitement and energy,” Munchak said. “So when the season did end, we thought that we had something special, like we did when we drafted him.”
There are certain mental and physical abilities needed for a quarterback to succeed in the NFL. The front end of a play requires a QB to read a defense in seven seconds or less, make the best decision with the football, execute the play and do it again and again. Resiliency to bounce back after a bad practice, play or game is more important.
Locker joked that it was only his second year so he didn’t yet know exactly what makes a QB successful in the NFL, but added “I think to be successful in general, you’ve got to have confidence. You’ve got to have a belief in yourself and the guys around you. You’ve got to be able to forget. It’s not always going to go the way you want it to, so you’ve got to be able to forget about the negative things that might happen in a game and move on and not be worried to make another mistake.”
With that in mind, the Titans tried to challenge Locker during practice and did not design offensive plans for their preseason games.
“I learned more about the kid when he failed,” Munchak said after announcing the decision to start Locker. “I hope he doesn’t. I hope that he is successful, but when he struggled some, I was more interested to see how he handled that on the sidelines, how he handled talking to receivers and took the coaching. I would rather see that (in the preseason) than I would in game one or game two.”
In Loggains’ assessment, Locker answered “probably the worst practice he had all training camp” by stacking “his three best ones the three days after” and demonstrated “confidence, poise and consistency.”
“That’s the story of this position: never too high, never too low,” Loggains said. “We saw all that stuff in him when we evaluated him, probably more so than he will ever know in how far we dug and looked at his history.”
Locker’s past was built on athletic achievements and responding to challenges with determination. He was twice drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but chose to play football at the University of Washington.
He opted to return for his senior season and led the Huskies to a Holiday Bowl victory two years after they went 0-12. Locker’s father Scott coached him during his youth and instilled lessons about being receptive to criticism as an important step in making improvements.
“He was great about letting me know when I did things well, but I was constantly looking to make him proud,” Locker said. “In doing so, he always expected a lot out of me, and so I made mistakes and I heard about it. I learned at a pretty young age that it didn’t do me any good to dwell on them because I couldn’t do anything about them.
“He taught me that it’s OK to make mistakes,” Locker continued.
“You’re going to get corrected for them, but learn from them not only on the field but in life too. It allows you to be a better person, a better player if you take the mistakes you’ve made and learn from them, so I just think it’s not only a part of football but life.”
There will be mistakes, but the emphasis is avoiding repetition of an error. There is also potential to do some great things. Locker and Loggains said the most successful quarterback play stems from the other 10 offensive players doing their job, whether it’s pass protection, blitz pickup, the right route, a great catch or the downfield block that turns a good play into a game-changer.
A quarterback’s leadership of a huddle and an offense is often analyzed, but there are multiple styles and methods. Locker said he wants to lead by doing.
“I’m not a real ‘Rah-Rah’ pre-game speech kind of guy,” Locker said. “That’s never really been my thing. Everybody gets ready however they get ready, and I’m going to let you do that. There’s a time and a place for it, but not every week, not every time. I’ve found that your respect is earned through how you play.
“Guys will follow you and believe in you because of what they see you put on the field as a product,” he continued, “and that goes to your preparation through the week, how much it means to you, and when you get out on the field, are you holding things back or are you giving everything you have for that team, whether it’s good or bad.”
Locker said there will be challenges as he continues to learn the offense and opponents’ defenses, but no regrets.
“It’s not always going to go exactly how you picture it going, but at the end of the day you can walk off the field and say, ‘You know what, I did everything in preparation. I did everything during the game. I played as hard as I could. I did everything to the best of my knowledge, to the best of my ability.’ There’s no regret there. You can’t look back on it and go, ‘Gosh, I regret that,’ because what can you regret? You’ve prepared as well as you could, you played as hard as you could, you made decisions that you thought were right.
“At the end of the day,” he continued, “if you can say you did that every time you had the opportunity to go compete, to me, you never would have failed in any of those settings.”