We begin our trip around the Titans position by position as we approach the start of the 2013 regular season with a look at the quarterback position.
Unlike last year, the depth chart at quarterback is absolutely clear. Jake Locker is the unquestioned starter, and the man with whom the 2013 Titans will sink or swim. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the backup. He will play if Jake Locker gets hurt. Rusty Smith will be the third quarterback, if the Titans keep a third quarterback.
I think I've belabored the point enough, writing about Locker late last season, in the offseason positional analysis, and looking at more micro areas like sacks, the red zone, and interceptions. Short version: He wasn't good enough in 2012, and outside of running well it was hard to find a consistent bright spot. That was no surprise to me, since I doubted coming out of college whether he'd be a good enough NFL passer. The good news is, he's a young quarterback, there's plenty of time to improve, and 2013 is a new season.
The designated solution for of "fixing Locker" and "winning games with Jake even if he's not fixed" came in a comprehensive passing game overhaul, away from Chris Palmer's pass-oriented option route-heavy attack to something I expect will look a lot more like Mike Heimerdinger's more run-focused offense with a more streamlined and unitary quarterback decision-making tree. Will it work?
At this point, it's hard to say. We haven't seen Jake Locker actually play in this offense yet. The Titans have done what they can to make it work-adding pieces to a run game that could put Locker in more third-and-shorts and -mediums and fewer third-and-longs. Justin Hunter is physically talented. Delanie Walker's ability to threaten defenses from multiple positions could make it easier for Locker to identify coverage schemes and potential mismatches. It could work, but Locker has to make it work. I'll be watching intently to see if he does.
If all goes well, Ryan Fitzpatrick will not take any regular season snaps for the Tennessee Titans in 2013. Think of him as basically Matt Hasselbeck from last year, except Fitzpatrick may be closer to the average "high football character" NFL quarterback to the "very good guy, even by high NFL quarterback standards" Hasselbeck was. He has similar strengths and weaknesses to Matt, including an ability to make plays that are there within the short-to-intermediate quick passing game but does not threaten defenses vertically and must operate within the confines of the offense to be successful. Barring an injury to Locker, I expect Fitzpatrick will only play if Locker is both (a) awful and (b) costing the Titans otherwise winnable games.
Rusty Smith's continued presence on the Tennessee Titans depends on how worried they are about Jake Locker's ability to stay healthy. I think the Titans are worried enough about a repeat of the "having to start rookie sixth-rounder Rusty Smith" experience that given Locker's injury history they'll keep a third quarterback. Smith is entering the final year of his rookie deal, which is why I thought he might be on the bubble for the QB3 job. Nathan Enderle's release, which Mike Munchak explained was due to the difficulty in finding enough reps for quarterbacks other than Locker and Fitzpatrick, obviated that particular question, but whether the Titans will keep three quarterbacks is yet to be determined and subject to what happens elsewhere on the roster.
It's all about Jake Locker, who has to play better than he has in the past.
It is hard to get excited about this season for this very reason. I really like Jake Locker and I would love it if he is able to surprise everyone this year, but I'm not going to get my hopes up. They don't always get it right, but when expert after expert said that he didn't have the reliability and accuracy to succeed in the NFL, you have to wonder what possessed the Titans to draft him so high. It is disappointing because the Titans look like they are putting a strong roster together for the first time in years, but to succeed they will need to have good, consistent QB play. I really, really hope I am wrong, but I fear that this time next year the Titans will have a new HC and a new starting QB.
@Gemma While I think you are right in what we need from our QB in order to succeed I think it would be a mistake to think Locker doesn't have a bright future. McNAir struggled his first few years then took us to the Superbowl, VY was wildly inaccurate but managed to have an impressive W-L record. Matthew Stafford of Detroit is the best comparison given circumstances.
If you look at Stafford and Lockers first 10 games as starters the numbers are nearly identical. Locker completed 56% of passes with a 74 QBR to Staffords 53% and 61 QBR. Eventhough Stafford has 63 more passing attempts over that stretch Locker trails him by 89 yards. Locker was sacked 25 times while Stafford was sacked 24 times. Lastly Locker was nearly 1:1 in TD:INT ratio while Stafford was almost 1:2. Biggest thing is they both suffered separated shoulders early into their starting careers.
As for the critics they only go off what they have seen. They didn't take into account Locker was protected by 6 different starting O-line groups (13 total O-linemen), battled through his injury and didn't use it as an excuse, was constantly playing from behind b/c the defense nearly gave up 30 points a game which makes the offense abandon the run early and makes it easier for other teams to rush the passer b/c they know they have to throw more.
Lastly the Titans drafted him so high b/c like so many teams picking in the top 10 they needed a franchise QB. They forced VY out, Collins left for INDY we literally had only Rusty Smith when we drafted Locker and later signed Hasselback. We wisely passed on Gabbert and Ponder. Most people saw us taking Nick Fairley. So I ask would you take a chance on a franchise QB who has a great work ethic, needs to improve his accuracy but otherwise a solid QB or a DT who was very impressive? I doubt Fairley would have turned this team around and people forget Locker was rumored to be the potential #1 overall pick the year before but decided to stay in school where he got hurt and endured a bad year. So critics never wrote him off as a non NFL QB they simply said he needs to improve his accuracy (which can be said of almost any QB) Luck was amazing in most peoples minds but look up his completion percentage, not much different than Lockers yet no one is claiming he isn't going to make it in the NFL.
Sorry for the long reply but as I've come across all the info I posted this offseason it's changed my perception about a guy we have seen play half a game healthy and with a lot of new playmakers on offense and better protection I truly believe he has no excuse to not succeed, otherwise I completely see where you are coming from.