A season after Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker concluded his collegiate career at the University of Washington, his former teammates and coaches have marveled at his development since becoming the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Locker achieved another milestone in his career on Monday when the Titans announced he will serve as the team's starting quarterback for the upcoming season.
The hiring of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian in 2008 forced Locker to make the switch from a spread-option offense to a pro-style system Sarkisian employed as offensive coordinator at USC. At the time, former Huskies and Oakland Raiders quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo told the Seattle Times that it would be a transition Locker needed to embrace if he wanted to play in the NFL.
While the Huskies' offense isn't identical to the scheme run by Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, there are some similarities in how the receivers are required to read and react to a look presented by a defense.
“We try to put our players in positions to be successful if they are able to reach the next level. I've heard from many guys that our schemes reflect a lot of what they see in the NFL, and they feel prepared,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said before the start of training camp. “If there are similarities between our packages and the Titans, I can certainly see how that would present an advantage for Jake or any other player.”
Locker appeared in five games in his rookie season in 2011, finishing with 542 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Sarkisian was most impressed with Locker's poise, especially in high-pressured situations. While in relief of Matt Hasselbeck, Locker nearly led the Titans to a pair of double-digit comebacks against the Saints and Falcons.
"The main thing I noticed from watching Jake was his comfort level,” Sarkisian said. “First-year quarterbacks in the NFL have so much to learn, and games can get tense and tight, but Jake maintained a high comfort level and a great presence throughout."
Locker struggled with his accuracy at times while at Washington, finishing his career with a 54.0 completion percentage. In limited action last season, Locker completed just 51.5 percent of his attempts. Titans wide receiver Devin Aguilar spent three seasons with Locker at Washington. Aguilar indicated that the scheme changes could have provided Locker with a steep learning curve.
“It was a new offense, you know, having to adapt to the reads and so forth,” Aguilar said. “It was hard at first but towards the end of the season he ended strong. He made his way and found his role.”
Since joining the Titans as an undrafted free agent in April, Aguilar has been impressed with Locker's increased patience. Locker has been less inclined in training camp to take off if his first or second read isn't open.
“He's getting more comfortable with his reads and he hasn't been forcing stuff,” Aguilar said. “If we're on the same page and we make our reads right it helps him even more. Sometimes he doesn't even have to know our reads, he just has to have trust in his receivers to get open.”
CJ and Washington confident in Locker's play under pressure: Running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Nate Washington reflected on Locker's ability to handle high-pressured situations on Monday, hours after the second-year quarterback was named the Titans' starter.
In a 22-17 loss to the Saints last December, Locker led the Titans on a seven-play, 72-yard drive in the final 1:34. Locker was unable to convert on two chances from the Saints' 5-yard line in the game's final seven seconds.
“He was composed in there, throwing the ball to the right receivers,” Johnson said. “He wasn't in panic mode or anything like that. He knew what to do, we just came up one play too short.”
Three weeks earlier in a 23-17 defeat at Atlanta, Locker nearly led the Titans back from a 23-3 third-quarter deficit. Locker connected with Washington on a pair of second half touchdowns.
“He made sure every guy played to the best of their ability and gave it everything they had,” Washington said. “You have a lot of guys who just want to get those games over with but to have a guy want to come in and get better, it's promising to see.”
Munchak: Locker to play past halftime: Coach Mike Munchak said Locker will start in Thursday's game vs. the Cardinals and expects him to play until some point of the third quarter. Hasselbeck is expected to relieve Locker and play until early portions of the fourth, Munchak added. Munchak will divide practice repetitions depending on the drill, but indicated that Locker will receive roughly 75 percent of the total snaps on offense.
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