Tennessee Titans' Jake Locker makes the right moves in rough start

11:29 AM, Sep 10, 2012   |    comments
Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) tackles Patriots free safety Patrick Chung after Chung picked up a fumble in the fourth quarter Sunday. Locker got hurt on the play as the Titans lost 34-13. - JAE S. LEE / THE TENNESSEAN
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Commentary by David Climer | The Tennessean

Well, at least the Titans can start building around their quarterback.

That's something, right?

Right?

Granted, this is like searching for a silver lining during an F-5 tornado. Minus an early uptick and a brief flurry in the third quarter, the Titans were easy pickings for New England in a 34-13 assault on Sunday.

If the score doesn't sound close, there's a reason: It wasn't.

But one game into the season, there is reason for at least a whisper of optimism -- cautious or otherwise -- because of Jake Locker's debut as starting quarterback.

Locker threw well for the most part. His mobility was an asset. He showed poise. His toughness cannot be questioned.

And the latter characteristic will be particularly important on a team whose personnel shortcomings were exposed by the AFC's best team.

No play typified Locker's approach to the game more than a sequence in the fourth quarter when he made the tackle on Patriots safety Patrick Chunn, who had built up a full head of steam while returning a fumble 49 yards. Locker suffered a bruised left (non-throwing) shoulder on the play.

"We would rather him not go in there and tackle anybody, but he did because he's so competitive, I guess," Titans coach Mike Munchak said.

It is one of those unwritten rules of the NFL. In the event of a turnover, quarterbacks are supposed to hustle to the nearest sideline and avoid any collisions.

Locker didn't get the memo.

"Nobody told me that," he said. "I thought it was football. ... I know that I play on offense but I'm not going to let a guy run into the end zone."

What happened after the play in question is worth noting. After the Titans' medical staff made sure all his body parts were intact, Locker immediately began trying to talk his way back into the game. He was observed in a spirited sideline conversation with trainer Brad Brown and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

Eventually, Brown and Loggains steered Locker away, convincing him he should live to play quarterback another day. Matt Hasselbeck finished the game.

The sequence spoke volumes. Let's face it: The Titans haven't had a quarterback with this kind of grit and resolve since the Steve McNair days. For Kerry Collins, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. With all due respect to Hasselbeck, he wouldn't have thrown his body into the path of a speeding defensive back.

Vince Young? Please. When he hit serious turbulence back in 2008, then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher sent the authorities in search of him after the game to make sure he didn't try to harm himself.

As for Locker, that's just the way he plays the game. It's not always pretty (his fumble on a sack resulted in a second-quarter touchdown for the Patriots) but you don't have to worry about him taking the easy way out.

Right about here, it should be noted that Locker should not have found himself in position to make a tackle on the play. Everything began when the an official -- part of a team of replacement refs -- blew the call, incorrectly ruling that Titans receiver Nate Washington had made a catch and fumbled, with Chunn scooping up the ball and taking off.

The call eventually was overturned on video review, but that was well after Locker's left shoulder had been damaged.

"I played it out as if it was live," Locker said.

All told, it was a solid starting debut by Locker, particularly considering the opposition. As expected, Patriots coach Bill Belichick tricked up a few things on defense to see how Locker would react.

"You don't make it easy for him," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "You give him different looks. You keep things moving on him. With a new quarterback, you don't know how he's going to adjust."

McCourty came away impressed by both Locker's toughness and mobility.

"I thought he fought out there," McCourty said. "He does a great job of keeping plays alive."

Locker's stats were solid -- 23-of-32 for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception and a passer rating of 89.2. He did all that without the benefit of a running game. Chris Johnson managed all of 4 yards on 11 carries, with a long run of 5 yards. Obviously, Johnson was going backward most of the day.

Locker actually led the Titans in rushing with two scrambles for 11 yards. He also had a 21-yard run on a quarterback draw nullified by a holding call.

It got lost in the greater scheme of things but one of the most impressive plays came on the Titans' opening drive. Facing fourth-and-a-foot at the New England 37, Locker checked out of a running play and threw a 24-yard dart over the middle to Nate Washington.

"I really don't know what he checked to but I'm glad he made the check," said center Fernando Velasco. "It was just good instinct by him. It's something we really hadn't worked on in practice but he made it happen."

This, then, is something to build on for a team that needs a foundation.

It looks like the Titans have a quarterback.

Now they need to find a few more pieces.

Reach David Climer at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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