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VOL. 36 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 21, 2012

Young Locker thrown into a bad situation

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When the Tennessee Titans made the decision a month ago to start the season with Jake Locker at quarterback, it was clear that there would be some bumps in the road. Two weeks in, no one could have anticipated this many potholes.

No one expected Locker to be perfect, and the youngster has shown flashes of his potential. He also is showing some of the flaws – occasional accuracy issues and poor reads that lead to interceptions – the Titans and those who follow them already knew were in his game.

The Titans knew they would have to live with some of that. It’s part of the maturation process. While Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and, for now, at least, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have seemingly bypassed some of those growing pains, young quarterbacks avoiding problems in the NFL are still the exception rather than the rule.

Would the Titans have been more competitive early on with Matt Hasselbeck over Locker? Probably. But coach Mike Munchak is correct in sticking with Locker now after starting down that path.

The truth is, the problem with these Titans is not so much Jake Locker. It’s the other players who are supposed to be stepping up to help the kid through the rough times.

In 2007, the Titans actually made the playoffs despite putrid numbers from starting quarterback Vince Young (9 TDs, 17 interceptions). They did it on the strength of a defense led by Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch that could control a game. They did so with an offensive line that opened enough holes that even an out-of-shape LenDale White could gain 1,100 yards.

Yes, the NFL has changed into a pass-happy league, and the Titans might eventually become one of those teams, too, provided they don’t shellshock Locker into becoming the next David Carr or Joey Harrington with continued sub-par play from the talent around him.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker looks to throw while playing the San Diego Chargers during the first quarter of the game Sunday in San Diego.

-- Ap Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

Through the first two games, what Titan on offense or defense has played well enough that opponents have to take note and game plan accordingly to keep that player from beating them? Certainly not Chris Johnson, who has almost become a complete non-factor. And not the offensive line, which can’t open holes for Johnson and had Locker running for his life against the Chargers.

Kenny Britt isn’t yet healthy enough to be a factor, and while Kendall Wright shows promise, he too is a raw rookie. Jared Cook continues to tease and tantalize but isn’t targeted nearly enough for whatever reason.

The defense? It’s simply a mess. Never mind the needs for a game-changing pass rusher or a ball-hawking defensive back. Titans fans would settle for someone who could cover a tight end in a pass route.

All these deficiencies are taking the Titans out of games so early that they have no choice but to depend too heavily on Locker at a time when he should be allowed to simply learn the rigors of the position and manage the game.

As erratic as Locker has been in his first two starts, he has been the Titans’ best chance to make a big play, even with all his mistakes.

When Locker looks around and sees an entire team foundering, you wonder if he feels like he is back at the University of Washington, trying to shoulder the entire load himself like he did as a sophomore for a team that went 0-12.

Munchak admits that the Titans have had to ask far more of Locker in the early going than they had planned on.

“The running game especially (needs to help him),” the second-year coach says. “You want to be a complete offense. You want to be well-balanced. We haven’t been well-balanced. CJ had eight carries. We’re not a well-balanced offense when you run the ball as little as we have the last two weeks.

“It’s put some more pressure on him. We feel he can handle it, but we’d rather not make him have to deal with that. And if we’re gonna have success we’ve got to fix that. But right now, it’s been a struggle.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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