This much Coach Mike Munchak made clear about the Tennessee Titans quarterback situation.
If Jake Locker shows he is good enough to be the starting quarterback in 2012, then his relative inexperience compared to Matt Hasselback won't be held against him.
Locker is in a battle Hasselbeck for the Titans starting quarterback job, a job that one day will be his, given that he was last year's first-round pick. The question is how soon is “one day.”
“I would think that wouldn’t be a problem. I think like I said with Jake coming in last year, we all talked about it already, that even though he didn’t start, we understand that he is a young football player and obviously Matt has experience,” Munchak said. “But these guys know that if we feel like a guy is ready to play that wouldn’t hold us back from making that kind of decision because he is a second-year player.”
Munchak admits that the early part of the Titans schedule could have some bearing on his decision on which quarterback is the opening day starter, but that factor is a small one compared to the bigger picture.
“You have to factor everything in, so sure, you're thinking about that. I could sit here and put a paper of pros and cons of who should start in that first game and there's a lot of reasons for both of them. That would not be influencing why we would do what we do. We've got to go with the guy who is ready to help us win,” Munchak said.
Locker played in five games as a rookie, spelling Hasselbeck on all five occasions with no regular-season starts under his belt as of yet. That's why this off-season has been very important for him to really sink his teeth into Chris Palmer's playbook for the first time without the pressure of game preparation standing in the way.
“Just having OTAs gives you the opportunity to kind of fine tune and refine some of the things you're doing. I don't know if it's new stuff, but it's really kind of starting to own it and understand how to be successful in it,” Locker said.
The getting to know teammates time is over, it's getting to know the playbook and how to better run the offense that is on Locker's mind these days.
“You know your schedule. You know kind of what to expect as far as a that's concerned. You're comfortable with all the guys,” he said. “You're not trying to get to know people as much as you were your first year, and also being able to spend this time where you're not preparing for a game, and you're able to just come out and focus on our offense and on our team and how we can improve within each play. And I think that you're able to grow as an individual and as an offensive group.”
Locker and Hasselbeck have a good relationship, and Munchak appears comfortable with either of them winning the job. One of the X factors in the development of a young quarterback is when to hand him the reins. In other words, once Munchak and Palmer decide it is Locker's team, whether that be in training camp, sometime this season or sometime beyond that, then it needs to be Locker's team permanently in order to allow him to grow and play through his mistakes.
The Titans have seen both ends of this spectrum. Once Steve McNair was handed the reins to the team in 1998, it was his for good. No amount of early struggles, injuries or strong play by backup Neil O'Donnell in spot duty could wrest the job away from McNair The Titans eventually reaped the rewards of that decision with a Super Bowl berth, an AFC Championship appearance and a co-MVP season from McNair all part of what was eventually accomplished with him at quarterback.
On the other end, Vince Young was thrown into the lineup too early, at the behest of owner Bud Adams, and his career wound up very spotty. Young's solid early results as Offensive Rookie of the Year were eventually overshadowed by his bouts with immaturity and being benched.
As for the battle between Locker and Hasselbeck, the strong friendship that has developed between the two can only help once the Titans settle on a quarterback for 2012. The battle is competitive but friendly.
“It's not I'm out to get him or he's out to get me. It's a collaborative thing” Locker said. “The better he is, the better it makes me, because I've got to push myself that much harder.”