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David Climer: Opener shows glimmers of hope for Titans

9:58 AM, Aug 9, 2013   |    comments
Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean Titans quarterback Jake Locker throws a pass during the second quarter against the Redskins at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013.
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

All in all, not a bad start.

A revamped Titans offense made good on coach Mike Munchak's offseason vow to accentuate the run, and quarterback Jake Locker had his moments in the preseason debut on Thursday against the Redskins.

Titans fans probably came away from the game cautiously optimistic despite a 22-21 loss. After the 6-10 disaster of last season, they were looking for any sign that better days are ahead. This was a step -- albeit a small one -- in the right direction.

But we should never get carried away with what happens in a preseason game. It's hard to believe we have three more of these glorified scrimmages to endure. Many Titans fans apparently concur. Even though the afternoon rains ended almost two hours before kickoff, LP Field was no more than one-quarter full when Maikon Bonani's foot struck ball.

Stats from a preseason game should come with an asterisk attached since neither the Titans nor the Redskins spent much time game planning. Even so, one number stuck out: 92. That's how many rushing yards the Titans had in the first quarter. Chris Johnson accounted for 58 of those yards on one carry.

As for Locker, there were pluses and minuses. He finished 7-of-11 passing for 58 yards but was sacked twice. In many ways, it was a continuation of his uneven play in training camp. He's struggled early in practices and scrimmages, and that was the case again on Thursday.

"We started off on our first drive a little slow, but I thought we had three really good drives after that," Locker said.

On the Titans' first possession, Locker threw late to a slanting Kenny Britt, and the pass was tipped by cornerback David Amerson and almost intercepted. On third-and-8, his offensive line was overrun and Locker was sacked for a 7-yard loss.

Locker came back to direct a nine-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, making a couple of nice throws. But there were other times when he held the ball too long.

"That was our goal, just to come out and build some momentum, have some drives and put 14 points on the board," Locker said. "... It was really good for the first time out, I felt, and things that we can build on."

Somehow, though, I doubt Ron Jaworski was impressed. Remember, it was Jaworski, an analyst for ESPN, who ranked Locker the NFL's No. 31 starting quarterback -- next to last, for those keeping score. For now, Locker remains a work in progress.

Still, there is reason to expect an uptick this season. Even though he threw more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10) last season, he picked up some valuable experience. Teammates say he commands the huddle now.

Locker also should benefit from a fresh offensive start. New coordinator Dowell Loggains threw out the old playbook and devised a scheme that streamlined the decision-making process for Locker and his pass catchers. Offseason acquisitions also fortified the receiving corps.

One of Locker's tendencies is to try to do too much. That goes back to his college days at Washington, where the Huskies did not have top-tier offensive talent. Often, he went off script to make big plays, both with his arm and his legs.

But what worked in college is a recipe for disaster in the NFL. Defenses are just too good. And you know what they say about running quarterbacks: There are two kinds -- those who have been injured and those who haven't gotten injured yet.

While Loggains has encouraged Locker to run when the opportunity presents itself, he also has made it clear that the quarterback does not have to shoulder the entire load.

"We're talented enough around him now, he just needs to drive the bus and get the ball to the playmakers," Loggains said. "He doesn't have to do anything on his own."

This, then, is something to build upon.

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