The Tennessee Titans stand unified with Jake Locker as the team's starting quarterback.
Everyone from owner Bud Adams to coach Mike Munchak to even Matt Hasselbeck, who will now serve as the No. 2 quarterback, are ready for the Locker Era to begin in Tennessee.
“When we drafted Jake last year, we knew one day he would take this thing over, and today's that day. Jake will be our starting quarterback for the 2012 season and hopefully for many more seasons after that,” Munchak said in making official the news that leaked earlier in the day.
Locker, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, sat behind Hasselbeck last year and learned, getting into five games as a rookie backup. The former University of Washington star was grateful for the chance to begin leading the Titans, but said his approach will not change.
“It's really cool. It's something I'm proud of, but it's not going to change my approach on how I practice or my preparation for a game. That will still all be the same, but it is cool to be given this opportunity,” Locker said.
Owner Bud Adams, who spoke to TitanInsider earlier in the day on the subject, gave his blessing to the move as well.
“The other guy (Hasselbeck) is a good one too, but he’s starting to get a little age on him,” said Adams of Hasselbeck, who turns 37 next month. “He came in and played well for us last year, but Locker did too when he came in. I’m looking forward to him playing.”
As for his part, Hasselbeck was disappointed to lose the starting job, coming off a season in which he threw for 3,500 yards, but pledged his support to Locker, with whom he has developed a strong friendship.
“I've been in his shoes. It's an exciting thing for him. I had the chance to help lead a franchise and help build a program, and I had a chance to be the guy under center, and he's got that chance right now,” Hasselbeck said. “As hard as it was, Munch made his decision, and as hard as it was for me to hear that, I'm also excited for Jake. I'll help and support him any way I can, and I'll be happy to do it.
“He was the eighth overall pick last year, and at some point, he was going to get a chance to play. He's really done a great job in the classroom and in a lot of areas and giving everybody a lot of confidence.”
Locker said he learned a lot as a rookie from Hasselbeck and was grateful to be able to learn from him.
“I can honestly look back on last year and say I grew a lot as a player and a person and I'm thankful for the situation I was in, and I'm thankful for the one I continue to be in,” Locker said. “You guys know as well as I do he is a great guy, one of the best guys I know. It wasn't awkward, it wasn't tough. He was very encouraging and very supportive of me.”
Players and coaches are excited about what Locker can bring to the table as well, especially his leadership skills. Munchak said it was how Locker handled failure, including a 4 of 11 effort last week in Tampa Bay that influenced him as much as anything.
“He had some bad days, but he came back quickly from them. When things didn't go his way, he handled it well, which was good to watch,” Munchak said. “Matt was having a nice, solid camp, but every time Jake's been in the games, we've scored points. He moves the teams. The Seattle game, the short time he was in there, he went down and we got a field goal. The game last week, we know he made some mistakes, but he didn't let it get him down.”
Locker apparently passed that test with flying colors.
“He (Munchak) had mentioned that that was something he wanted to see out of me, especially being a younger player, how I responded to negative plays, how I responded to having a bad day out here,” Locker said.
Teammates say Locker is wise beyond his years, and they don't fear a repeat of the last time the Titans broke in a young quarterback in Vince Young.
“I think it's a little different with Jake. He's a mature guy when it comes to on the field. He's not afraid to learn. He's not afraid to make mistakes and he moves forward with them. He's a guy that's not gonna make the same mistake twice,” Washington said. “He understands the offense, he understands that he doesn't know everything right away and that he's continuing to learn. When you have a guy like that, you just kind of want to make sure you're doing everything for him.”