Inaccurate. Raw. Inconsistent footwork. All of these buzzwords or phrases accompanied Jake Locker into the 2011 draft. Such criticism wasn't unjustified, and despite a few good preseason games and one outstanding one, it still isn't. However, when Locker was picked last April, I was expecting something wildly different from the product we see on the field today. It's not so much that he's not looking like an unpolished rookie, there are certainly times where he is, it's more that he's just so far ahead of what I had in my mind that I'm honestly a little bit thrown off.
This feeling of uncertainty has me wondering whether my expectations for a top ten pick were too low. Maybe I was just preparing myself for a train wreck and now that I'm seeing this awesome super sleek Chinese bullet train running around that I'm totally off my game. I'm not exactly a big time film evaluator, but I think even our more experienced and savvy members and contributors have been very complimentary of Locker's progress.
In any case, to understate the point, I'm pleasantly surprised by the amount of rust that Locker seems to have shaken off without the benefit of a full offseason, especially given his supposed mountain of issues that came up surrounding his ability to play quarterback against NFL defenses. However, we all know that some limited action in the preseason a glistening career does not make. Just ask Lavelle Hawkins, he'll tell you all about it.
A quick glance at Jake's preseason numbers will show that not only is he leading all rookies in several key passing categories, but he's also outplayed such veterans as Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Kevin Kolb (shocking!). As I come back down to earth after realizing it's the preseason, I think "what the heck" and check out some numbers from everybody's pre-draft man crush, Andy Dalton. As expected, he's completing a good amount of his passes, but watching him play has kind of been like watching baby ducks get blown over by the wind. Part of me feels terribly sorry for him given that he's pretty much stuck in Cincinnati, but another, more vindictive part of me is kind of enjoying watching Locker out-play him by a wide margin to prove the stat heads wrong.
No part of me believes that Locker is starter material at this point. The Saints game proves nothing. He was playing against a bunch of rookies and un-drafted fringe players, basically the same guys he was smoking last year, you know, in college. It's easy to look at his film and stat line and say "Look at how he's ripping up NFL defenses, he's ready to go!", but to put him in there in week one would be a mistake not only in the sense that it may just get him into some bad habits, but that it also might be against the Titans' best interests as a team that's trying to win games. Also; to call that thing an NFL defense would be a crime. Matt Hasselbeck is more prepared, it's of no concern to the franchise's future if he leaves the field with an injury (even though that would suck), and right now, he's probably a better quarterback. Barring injury, Hasselbeck should be in there for both the Ravens in week two and the Steelers in week five. Those are really the only two teams aside from maybe the Falcons that under no circumstances would I want Locker starting (not happening) or getting significant reps against.
Preseason polish may not mean a lot to some of our visitors, but if you're telling me you aren't encouraged at least a little bit then you're out of your mind. The journey to greatness has got to start somewhere, let's make it here and now.