“He's got something.”
That phrase has been etched into Tennessee Titans franchise lore because it was then-color analyst Pat Ryan's commentary as the “Music City Miracle” was unfolding.
But that same statement could be used to describe what the Titans believe about their young quarterback Jake Locker.
In 2011, the Titans were in need of a franchise quarterback, having prepared to make a clean break from the immaturity of Vince Young and moving in a completely different direction. Tennessee's coaches and front office personnel assessed about a half dozen rookie quarterbacks, including Blaine Gabbert, whom this week's foe Jacksonville, just put on injured reserve today with a season-ending shoulder injury.
They also examined Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton among others, knowing that aside from Cam Newton they had their choice of quarterbacks of the future.
Asked about what swayed them toward Locker, when many so-called draftniks had Gabbert as the second best QB prospect, Coach Mike Munchak recalled the process.
“He was (considered) when we first started looking,” Munchak said of Gabbert. “We went out to Missouri and saw him and liked him. You look at him, and he looks great – physical, good looking guy, great arm and all.”
But once they worked Locker out in Seattle following his pro day, everyone in the Titans organization was convinced that they had found their man.
“We went around and visited all the guys, five or six guys, and for me, once we went out there and saw Jake and spent that individual workout with him (we were convinced),” Munchak said. “People are starting to see some of the things in just a short period of time. You talk about the Miami game and the Detroit game. Some of the things he has done already is what I saw in him.”
Locker still is a work in progress, and the fact that he lost six weeks to a shoulder injury, certainly has set him back somewhat. But Munchak is eager to see how far his young quarterback and move the needle over the final six weeks of the season, perhaps even pushing the Titans a little closer to playoff contention.
“He's got so much more football to play and to learn, and we like the direction he's headed, but these next six weeks will tell us a lot about him,” Munchak said. “I'm looking forward to just watching the guy play as we finish the season and just seeing how it goes for him.”
Locker is looking forward to it too, but he has just one thing on his mind – improving the Titans' 4-6 record.
“We were able to create some momentum for ourselves two weeks ago, and just play a really crisp game,” Locker said. “It wasn't an outstanding effort by one individual, but it was a great team effort, and that is what we preach doing offensively, defensively and on special teams. Honestly, if we can approach it like that and take it one game at a time, we can give ourselves that opportunity.”
And that, in essence, is what sold the Titans' staff on Locker in the draft process.
“I think the players are going to respond to him and how he plays the game, that it's not about him at all. It's about winning football games and doing it the right way. He's not worried about stats. He's not a VIP type of guy,” Munchak said. “He's got all the skill sets to carry us. All those things were just off the charts.”
And that is what sold his teammates on him even when he was a rookie backup last year to Matt Hasselbeck.
“From the first day, we met him, he showed leadership,” tight end Craig Stevens said. “He was a vocal guy, but he's also a hard worker and a blue collar guy. You can just see the way he takes command on the field. He runs for first downs. You can tell it's really important to him to win. He plays with that passion.”
For Nate Washington, it became evident when Locker came into a desperate situation last year against New Orleans and came within one play of pulling out an improbable win.
“It really was apparent to me when we played New Orleans,” Washington said. “We were down and Matt got banged up, and I was standing on the sidelines and waiting to go in. Jake came over to me and said, 'Don't give up on me. I'm in the game and we've got work to do. We've got time left and we can make something.' You always hear those types of things. 'Hey, we can make a run this season,' or 'hey, there's time left on the clock.' But for it to actually be done was the eye-opener for me. This league is all about action and to see him come into that game and give such a valiant effort, it opened a lot of eyes on our sideline.”
And for the final six games, those eyes will be focused on Locker, because in the eyes of the organization, he's got something.