I am willing to give you the point about his tendency to succumb to injuries. The Titans used his first season in the league to get him acclimated to the National Football League game, by letting him learn under Matt Hasslebeck. Starting in only three games, allowed him to be under the guidance of a veteran quarterback. In 2012, he dealt with a shoulder injury, which prematurely ended his first season in the league as a starter, seeing him play only 11 out of 16 games. Last season, Lisfranc and hip injuries also forced Locker to sit for 9 games. No doubt, Locker must shed the injury-prone label. I can even give you his lack of overall development as a pocket passer and refinement of his accuracy as areas for improvement, but I will not accept that:
A - There is a better option for the team, be it in the draft or currently in free agency. Recently drafted sixth round quarterback Zack Mettenberger notwithstanding.
B - He should run out of chances with Titans brass.
I've been a proponent of Locker before and I do appreciate his skill set. He came into the league from the University of Washington possessing a big arm and ability to scramble and use his feet as a weapon. He's drawn comparisons to Brett Favre for his gunslinging mentality and approach to the game. This season will be make or break for Locker and with a new coach at the helm in Ken Whisenhunt, the pressure will be on to prove he was worthy of being a first round selection, or else he will be jettisoned out of the Volunteer State, fairly or unfairly. As is customary in the NFL, whenever a new coach comes into the helm, they always want to clean house and bring in their own signal caller. Whisenhunt will have no reservations of giving Mettenberger the starting job if Locker falters early.
But I bear good news for Titans and Locker fans as I present to you, without further ado, three reasons why Jack Locker will have a breakout season.
1. Kendall Wright: Wright will be entering his third season as a pro out of the University of Baylor and last year, he posted very solid numbers: 94 catches, 1079 yards and two touchdowns, this after grabbing 64 passes and 626 yards in his rookie season. Although he is a diminutive receiver, he has a knack for making big catches. His game reminds me of a former Titans pass-catcher, Derrick Mason displaying superior route-running ability and versatility, lining up either at the flanker, split end or in the slot. What was most impressive about the third year Baylor product, was the production he rendered despite a mediocre running game and of course, the quarterback position that was in flux. There's no doubt that for Locker to have a breakout season, Wright may need to improve on his already stellar numbers. He'll be in a good system to help him produce even better numbers, which leads me to my next point.
2. Ken Whisenhunt: You knew that Whisenhunt's tenure as an offensive coordinator would not last very long. I personally thought he got a raw deal in Arizona and did not deserve to get fired. He then went to San Diego to pair with Mike McCoy and all he did was completely revive the careers of not only Philip Rivers, but also Ryan Mathews. Under Whisenhunt's tutelage, Kurt Warner was able to revive a career that was seemingly in the dumps half a decade ago. Ben Roethlisberger's first offensive co-ordinator, from 2004 to 2006 was Whisenhunt, whose offensive philosophy and shrewd play-calling was a welcome addition to the incumbent Mike Mularkey. While winning a championship together, he was integral to the early development of the former Miami of Ohio Redhaw. As mentioned, he was also key in the Chargers return to prominence and the playoffs, changing Philip Rivers' passing style from a big-play hunting gunslinger, to a tactical ball distributor excelling in the short, medium and long passing game. There is no reason why Whisenhunt cannot hold Jake Locker into a bona fide starter. Locker has the talent and pairing him with the former Chargers offensive coordinator should do wonders for his game.
Whisenhunt has a proven track record of quarterback development. His offensive schemes will allow Locker to work in spread formations and mix in a bevy of quick-strike routes, while also adding deep route combinations, which is a perfect compliment for his strong arm and ability to scramble inside and outside the pocket. It'll be a breath of fresh air for Locker and the rest of the Titans offense, which grew tiresome of Mike Munchak's and Dowell Loggains' ground and pound attack and unimaginative route combinations and play-calls.
3. An improved offensive line: Many of Locker's injuries are a result of scrambling outside the pocket and taking off to run the football. Generally, as a quarterback, you are forced to scramble when the pocket disintegrates due in part either to the quarterback lacking an internal clock to know when to get rid of the ball or simply put, a poor offensive line. With regards to the latter, the Titans have bolstered the line over the last three seasons and look to have one of the better run and pass blocking units in the league. While it did not translate for Chris Johnson last season, the hope for this season is another year together with last year's free agent Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack becoming a year old and the drafting of Taylor Lewan, will propel Tennessee to having a premier unit. The always steady Michael Roos is one of the better left-tackles in the game and Michael Oher was signed in a depth-move that will allow them to move around Lewan if need-be.
A better running game will reduce pressure off of Locker's shoulders, as he'll be better able to set up play-action, rely on a running game and avoid being a sitting target against some of the better pass rushers in the AFC, such as J.J. Watt and Robert Mathis. The drafting of Bishop Sankey was a move that should pay immediate dividends, as he's a powerful back able to move the chains. What differentiates him from Chris Johnson is a willingness to be decisive and hit a hole rather than dancing at the line of scrimmage, which Titans brass grew extremely tired of.
Of course, these three factors, as a whole, are reason enough to think that the Titans can improve on a 7-9 record in 2013, regardless of the play of their quarterback. Jake Locker's 2015 fifth-year option was not picked up, paving the way for the Titans to search for another franchise quarterback after this upcoming season. The former Washington Husky has not had a fair shake, nor has he had the pre-requisite talent that a young quarterback needs in order to succeed. He never had the advent of a dominant Chris Johnson, which surely would have helped in his development. Talk about the Titans needing to go after a free agent signal caller or even worse, that a 6th round pick in Zach Mettenberg, be entrusted as a starter if Locker falters initially is preposterous. When healthy, Locker can carry a team, as evidenced by a game in 2012 against the Lions, where he threw for 378 yards, completing 69% of his passes. Last season, prior to his injury, he had a three-game stretch where he average a completion percentage of 64.4%, 5 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and a 106.2 quarterback rating. No, a few great contests does not a career make, but Locker, in his limited amount of games, 23 in three seasons, has shown flashes of brilliance. His cumulative numbers in those 23 games are not amazing, but you could definitely do worse:
Quarterback Rating: 81.1
Just for comparison's sake, Eli Manning threw 26 interceptions and completed 50% of his passes, in his first 23 games.
But of course, no one was clamouring for Manning to be removed as starter for the Giants back in 2004, right? Jake Locker, while wildly inconsistent, has not had a fair shake and as is customary in the NFL, fans and media are ready to bury a player before his development cycle is finished. I firmly belive, 2014 will be a big year for Locker.