This past game against the Falcons gave us the most comprehensive look we've gotten of Locker this pre-season. There's only so much you can learn from one game, but in this post we'll break down Locker's play from this game in an attempt to understand improvements he's made this offseason, as well as potential issues that remain in his game.
Primary Read Throws
The throws that Locker is making when his primary read is open (often times rhythm throws) are what have jumped out at me the most. The balance in his drops is more consistent, and he's squaring to the target much better. I thought last year he showed a tendency to rush things at the top of the drop, especially in the quick game. It remains to be seen if that's still an issue. At least in this game, the 3 step drop throws from under center were largely non existent. You'll note that a lot of these throws have some kind of action (either traditional play action, or a fake draw). This highlights the fact that everything is going to filter though this run game, and - by association - this offensive line.
* You'll notice CJ doesn't carry out the play fake. His primary assignment is to check pass protection, which he does here.
A few things on this throw. Note the pulling guard (Levitre). This pull creates great action, especially at the linebacker level. That action creates space underneath for Jake to fit this throw in.
Again, 7 step drop with action, hitch, ball comes out. Perfect placement, and great velocity.
7 step drop with a hitch again. Thrown in rhythm with accuracy. Nate runs a clear out, while TT runs a corner (sail) route.
Rhythm throw. Three step drop with no hitch. Throws Kenny open (even if that is by design). Ball is placed to the back shoulder right as Kenny gets out of his break.
1 step drop with a play action fake.
Fake. Drop. Ball is out. Placement is high and away where only his guy can make a play on the ball.
There some good and bad here. I think this, combined with pocket mobility, is the biggest weakness in Jake's game. There are times when pressure (or perceived pressure) comes and Jake takes his eyes away from his downfield targets. He'll need to get better feeling pressure, and manipulating the pocket.
Not a ton of pressure in the play above, but in years past I think you'd see Jake get a little more frenetic here. On this play, he understands there's time, rolls out slightly to find a clean throwing lane, and delivers a strike.
This play highlights one of Jake's biggest hurdles. There's legitimate pressure here. No questioning that. And, there's not a whole lot of room to move. Note Jake's eyes, though. As the pass rush becomes more threatening, he drops his eye level to the incoming defender. Had Jake kept his focus on Williams, this potentially goes for a first down. Instead the team settles for a field goal.
Deep Ball Placement
This one is admittedly nitpicky, but it at least needs to be noted. On both deeper throws, the ball could have been placed a little better. Of the concerns I have with Locker, this is near the bottom of the list.
Good balance here, but he over cooks it and under throws it (which sounds contradictory) just a little. A little less velocity, but more depth might have resulted in 6 points.
Similar sort of issues here, but worse ball placement. This ball needs to be placed with more depth and further away from the safety. Also, just a quick peek to the backside of this play would have resulted in a throw to a wide open Nate Washington.
This one's obvious. Even in the regular season, you can't be a hero here. Slide. Longevity matters, both from a seasonal and career perspective.
Putting it all together
Locker has made strides this offseason. I'd go as far as to say that someone who says otherwise is coming from some sort of position of bias. Now, whether those strides are big enough is a different issue. And, I think the thing to consider there is - what will be asked of Jake Locker this season? In evaluating Locker, I almost see two different players depending on circumstance:
1. Everything goes right. When his first read takes him to the right place, and the pocket is clean, this kid can throw strikes. That may be an easy thing to dismiss, but he's much better with his throws in ideal situations this year compared to last. Also consider that much of what does go right in this plays is also a result of the things he's seeing pre-snap.
2. Things don't go as planned. This issue seems to have carried over, which isn't totally unusual for a young quarterback - though it is something he will absolutely have to overcome. When the first couple of reads aren't open, or there's pressure (particularly interior pressure), Jake struggles. That's noted here in PFF's article on QB pressure in 2012:
The drop-off in Locker’s performance when pressured is rather drastic as he goes from a QB Rating of 89.9 to 38.7. His inability to handle pressure was a big knock on his game when he was drafted out of Washington and it’s held true to this point in his career.
Reconciling the information, to me, requires consideration to the aforementioned question about what will be asked of Jake. The Falcons game tells me that this offense will be heavily built around the run game. They'll work to create simple reads, and eliminate pressure situations. This is an important distinction. Our ability to get into 3rd and manageable (something that was a recurring problem last year), limits the situations where the defense can pin it's ears back on obvious passing downs. Keeping those situations to a minimum is critical in general, but perhaps even more so with our young QB given the polarity in his game.
I wouldn't call Jake a game manager. He doesn't fit that bill in the sense that I believe his ability allows for threatening, game changing plays. Still, I don't think he's yet ready to have the offense run through him. And, the good news for Titans fans is that Dowell Loggains doesn't have any intention of doing so.