If you are anything like me, the first pre-season game was 90% about seeing Jake Locker and 10% about the rest of the team. Much of our success over the next 5 years will hinge on Locker's ability to be productive in this league. So, heading into the game, I was eager to see what we had in Jake. All reports have been that he's worked hard during the lockout, but would that translate on the field?
Well, let's break down every throw that Locker made and see if we can get any insight.
3rd Down and 2 - 1st Quarter - 3:34
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Cook is flexed out to the slot. Vikings are showing a Nickel look, but a safety has dropped down into the box to cover Cook. Seven guys are in the box. Looks like Man Coverage with help over the top.
The Play: Hawk is running a simple slant. Locker identifies the coverage pre-snap and makes the correct throw. Footwork is good, as is the delivery of the football. Also of note, it appears that Palmer is making an effort to divide the field for two different types of route combinations. To the left, Hawk and Cook are running slants, great combination against man or MOFO* coverage. To the other side, they are running a dig/seam combo, which can be very effective against MOFC Cover 3 looks. It's fairly basic playcalling, but it allows easier reads for the QB if Locker can identify the safety's position pre-snap.
*MOFO (Middle of the field open)/MOFC (Middle of the field closed) is a fairly basic way that coaches teach QB's to identify coverages pre-snap. For example, Cover 2 and Cover 4, with two safeties over the top (each assigned to a side of the field) would be MOFO because the field between the two safeties is open. In Cover 1 and Cover 3, it's MOFC as there is a single high safety that occupies the deep middle. Chris at Smart Football has a great post on this concept.
1st Down and 10 - 1st Quarter - 2:53
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Locker is under center in a balanced formation. Vikes show a base 4-3 look.
The Play: It looks just like a bad read. The weakside of the field is running a Post-out combo. The defense is in a base Cover 2 zone look. The route just isn't open. This may have just been a throw away. Alternatively, the strongside of the play had Cook open in the flat.
3rd Down and 6 - 1st Quarter - 2:08
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Shotgun formation. Cook is split out as a receiver in the slot. The formation is overloaded to the left and is basically a trips formation. Vikes show 7 guys in the box, one of which is a safety. It would appear that at least one of them is coming on the blitz.
The Play: Vikings bring one safety and one LB on a blitz. Blitz pickup is atrocious by Jamie Harper allowing the LB to get through untouched. Locker is incredibly cool in this situation, though, eyes down field the entire time. He takes his drop in rhythm. Washington (who's in the slot) is his read the whole way. And, if I had to guess, I'd say this is a hot route that's identified immediately when the Vikes bring pressure. Jake side steps the blitz, steps up in the pocket, and delivers the ball to Nate who's done a beautiful job of sitting down in the zone coverage. The throw isn't the prettiest, but results are all that matter. The play results in a first down.
2nd and 6 - 2nd Quarter - 15:00
Pre-Snap - "21" Personnel. Weak I formation.
The Play - Play action pass with a backside screen to FB Hall. The play is read the entire way by the defense. Locker completes the pass to Hall for a loss. This should have just been thrown away. In fact, that may have been his intent, and Hall just scooped it up.
3rd and 10 - 2nd Quarter - 14:23
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Shotgun formation. Cook is upright, so it really plays like a balanced 4 wide combination. Vikings are showing a 3-4 look with three down linemen and 4 LBs in the box.
The Play: Vikings bring a total of 5 guys on the blitz. The secondary drops into zone. It looks like his first read is to Nate Washington, which he checks off. Next read is to Cook who's running a deep in underneath the safety and behind the linebacker. Locker identifies this well and delivers the ball to Cook for a first down.
The result is good, but I'll nitpick a little. Locker gets his hips wide open on this one, which causes the ball to sail on him. He's off balance on the throw. Jake needs to learn to side step the pressure and step to the target, even under pressure. With proper balance and footwork, this play could have gone for bigger yardage. Again, this is nitpicking, but these things must improve if he's going to be one of the best in this league.
2nd and 19 - 2nd Quarter - 12:57
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Locker is under center. Vikings are in Nickel. Six guys are in the box, and showing pressure. Two man help over the top.
The Play: Vikings bring 5. The 6th covers Stafon Johnson, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Williams is running a drag route from the slot. Cook is running a deeper 12 yard in. I only note this to illustrate the matchup nightmare that Cook presents in coverage even out of the down position. Cook is wide open on this play. No less, the coverage showed man, and the first read was open, so I have no issue with him electing to throw to Williams.
It's a five step drop with a hitch. Footwork and balance is perfect. Locker looks at ease with pressure in the pocket. He steps up and delivers the ball right where it needs to be.
3rd and 12 - 2nd Quarter - 12:19
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Shotgun formation. Receivers are overloaded to the left with Cook in the upright position. Resembles a traditional trips formation. 6 Defenders in the box, showing blitz.
The Play: Again, the Vikings bring 5. From the get go, Troy Kropog gets dominated at the right tackle position. The end gets to the backfield untouched. Locker is left with little to no time to make a read. Instead of making a reckless throw, he wisely steps up, gets what he can on the ground, and gets out of bounds. Bironas misses the field goal, but he'll make that kick 95% of the time. All things considered, this was a pretty heady play.
3rd and 2 - 2nd Quarter - 8:00
I won't go into too much detail here. Vikings bring 5 on the blitz and there's a miscommunication at the LOS. Kropog gets beat badly and it results in a sack. Nothing Locker could do here.
1st and 10 - 2nd Quarter - 5:03
Pre-Snap: "21" Personnel. Locker is under center. Seven men in the box, but only 4 on the line of scrimmage.
The Play: It's a bad snap exchange. Later, in the presser, Locker admitted that he botched the snap count and wasn't ready for the ball. The ball immediately hits the ground. Locker quickly picks up the ball and, after identifying that there is no imminent pressure, he immediately turns his eyes downfield. Yamon Figurs is running a go, and Locker hits him in stride. TD.
This play is a mixed bag. It's the one you'll see on SportsCenter, and it's certainly a heads up play. Still, part of the busted play was on Locker to begin with. The end result is good, but when I look back on this game this isn't necessarily one of the plays I'd point to that gets me excited about Locker's progress.
1st and 10 - 2nd Quarter - 3:22
Pre-Snap: "12" Personnel. Locker is under center. Vikings are in a base 4-3. 5 guys are on the LOS.
The Play: It's a play-action. The Titans fake a zone stretch to the strong side of the play. Locker is on a bootleg to the backside of the play. This is a pretty standard play, but it's run to perfection here.
Stevens runs a crossing route from the strongside of the play. Daniel Graham slips out to the bootleg side of the play. Meanwhile, Williams is running a deep comeback route along the sidelines. Locker stays tight and compact the entire time he's moving. Eyes are down field. Shoulders perpendicular to the target.
The first read is to Williams, but that window quickly closes. Locker resets, on the move, and squares to Stevens on the crossing pattern. He absolutely drills the throw with precision. You can count on one hand the number of QB's in the NFL that can make this play, at this speed, on a consistent basis. This is a play to get excited about. The athleticism displayed on this play is awesome.
2nd/3rd and 8 - 2nd Quarter - 2:00
Pre-Snap: I'm going to lump these two plays together as they are both back to back, and the premise is the same. On both plays the Titans are under center and there's a single high safety. Both times, Locker quickly identifies single coverage on the outside. Even more impressive, Locker audibles at the line on the second play. You can actually hear him saying, "Alert, Alert, Alert."
The Play: On both plays, Locker attempts a fade for the endzone. The first attempt probably could have been caught, but Hawkins lost it in the lights. On the second attempt, Mariani is slow on the route, but there's contact, resulting in PI call that gives the Titans a first and goal, and eventually results in a TD.
To me, the biggest question mark I had/have on Locker was his ability to adapt to the mental game of the NFL. The fact that he's making these pre-snap reads, and is given the ability to audible at the line is encouraging. This identification is nothing astonishing, but the fact that Palmer is giving Locker the ability to make these audibles this early in his career is huge from a trust perspective and will go a long way in helping with his development.
3rd and 6 - 3rd Quarter - 8:13
Pre-Snap: "11" Personnel. Locker is under center. Vikings are in Nickel showing pre-snap pressure.
The Play: The Titans roll the pocket to the right. Locker is immediately on the move. Mariani is running a 7 yard hitch on the playside, and that's the read the whole way. Locker misses Mariani here, but this is a tough throw. Jake probably should have done a better job of setting his feet. Mariani also needs to do a better job of selling the go. The window was small here.
All in all there's very little not to like here. There were no mental lapses. Throws were on time and generally on target. Footwork looked as good as you can ask. Of course, there is a long road ahead of him (and all rookie QB's for that matter). That said, he showed everything you want to see in a rookie quarterback in this preseason game. It's just the preseason, and it's just one game. But there's enough substance here to give Titans fans a reason to be excited.