Is Jake Locker the Answer?

Wesley Hitt

With a new crew in town, what lies ahead for the quarterback position? Is Locker "the guy"?

Naturally it only makes sense to break this down into the pros and cons.

The Cons

Injury Concerns

Locker has had more than a couple of major injuries in his football career. We've talked ad-nauseum about this so I'll keep it brief. Locker's injuries, while appearing to be more unlucky than a definitive trend, are still a concern. Lisfranc injuries can be tough to bounce back from for a guy who's planting his foot on every snap. For Locker to be the guy long-term, he is no doubt going to need to show better longevity season to season. At this juncture, it's unknown whether he is capable of doing that.

Pocket Awareness

Locker has had issues "feeling" the pass rush, and has walked himself into sacks too often. Locker will need to make strides in improving his pocket awareness to continue his growth in 2014. This is a trait more than a few experts chalk up to instincts that you either have it or don't, and while I don't agree with that entirely, it is obvious that some can seamlessly improve in this area where others struggle. To me, this has been an area in which Locker has improved since his rookie year, but no doubt still needs to work on in order to keep the offense "on schedule". He also needs to continue work in getting through his reads quickly and reading the defense, but has shown improvement in those areas as well. The play below was one of his worst from last season, and it was one of the rarer occasions that he showed a lack of composure under pressure.

Locker-kenny_medium

He needs to clean these issues in his game up to continue growing in 2014, but even last season he improved significantly after this game against the Texans.

The Pro's

Mobility and Arm Strength

Jake Locker is incredibly mobile, and he flashed that added athleticism last year when he was on the field. This ability allows Jake to escape the pocket when things break down, which is an increasingly good trait to have, and has made QBs like Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck look pretty dangerous because they are always a threat to extend the play. In the NFL, secondaries can rarely cover receivers when a play breaks down like that. Couple this mobility with excellent arm strength, and you have a guy who can threaten every yard on the field and make every NFL level throw.

Lockernatedeep_medium

Accuracy

Despite conventional thinking, Locker's accuracy was one of his strong points last season, with higher ratings than his previous seasons as well as the likes of Luck, Glennon, Tannehill, Flacco, Stafford, and many more. Locker seems to have fixed issues he had earlier in his career, which stemmed more from footwork than actual throwing accuracy and anticipation. While many point to a conservative plan when looking at his stretch of interception-less performances, when watching the tape it is clear that he was not "playing it safe", and tested the defense deep plenty. In fact, during that span, he was second in the league in pass attempts of over 30 yards. When given time to throw, as well as on the run, Locker proved an accurate QB in 2013, and I expect more of the same in 2014 and beyond.

Leadership and Affordability

Whisenhunt has already expressed his support of Locker from only what he has heard from Ruston Webster. Everyone on the team sings the same tune; this guy is a leader first and foremost, and the importance of having the locker room at your back, both on and off the field, can't be understated. The much-maligned Center Rob Turner had this to say about Jake during the past season:

"As for Jake, he has the personality, the mentality that you want to be a part of. You want to play for that guy.

"I’ll lay my body out there for him, week in and week out. I’ll take as many shots and play hurt to play for a guy like that to protect him, and everyone else on this team feels the same way. When you’ve got guys who feel that way about one another, it’s a powerful thing."

Beyond this, Locker commands only a $2 million salary next year, and it's fully guaranteed, so he will be on the roster (for those of you who didn't think so). While bringing in other QBs is not out of the question, it won't be at the expense of Locker as far as a roster spot is concerned.

The Conclusion

Jake Locker is the guy in 2014, and I think he will be the Titans starting QB for years after as well. The circumstances don't favor spending big in FA on the position, nor does it make sense to bring in a rookie QB and basically hit the reset button, to me anyway. Despite what many think about the top QB prospects in the draft, they lack the experience of facing real NFL defenses like Locker has, both in practice and on game-day. They would be behind the learning curve, and while I won't play prophet and say that Bridgewater or Manziel, or whomever, won't end up better than Locker, they may very well do so, I will say that Jake is the guy you'd rather have if you want to win in 2014. Rookie's come with growing pains, and waiting to bring that guy around would be a longer process than impatient fans are sometimes willing to wait.

From a performance standpoint, you can't fault his 2013 season too much. Prior to injury, he showed that he can win the NFL, and while the sample size was small, he did it in an impressive way. I am not trying to "glorify" what he did in the early going's of 2013, it is far too small a time frame to make that judgment. He's not having too many 4 TD games like Andrew Luck, but he also isn't throwing 4+ picks in those same match-ups. Locker certainly has a lot to prove next year, but I have no reason to believe he won't rise to the challenge.

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