At times, Matt Hasselbeck sounds more like a guy running for office than one who runs an offense. Whenever the Tennessee Titans’ new veteran quarterback meets the media, he makes sure to address specific talking points. Never mind the question; he takes at least one opportunity every time to pump the tires of his offensive linemen.
It’s smart. It’s savvy.
In politics, it’s a great way to secure backers. For a quarterback, it’s the best possible way to make sure the guys in front of you have your back.
Early last week, for example, he responded to a query about his own progress in the offense with the following: “I’m way more comfortable. The relationship between me and the center is good. We’re communicating really well. He does a great job. We’ve got some really smart offensive linemen, so that makes my job easier. … Having the line be as confident as they are really helps.”
No one but he mentioned the line.
It’s not often anyone does. Offensive lineman is one of the most thankless jobs in all of professional sports, which is exactly why any successful quarterback or running back goes out of his way to thank those guys with mid-week dinners, postseason gifts and the like. Chris Johnson bought each of his blockers one-of-a-kind watches after he rushed for better than 2,000 yards in 2009.
Hasselbeck, of course, is the guy who offers the promise of better days in the wake the football equivalent of a recession — back-to-back seasons without a playoff appearance. His presence inspires hope in the wake of five years of uneven — and sometimes unsettling — performance at the position courtesy of Kerry Collins and Vince Young, neither of whom ever fully earned the public trust.
Ultimately, though, his constituency is much smaller than the 68,000-plus who will turn out in person to support him on Sundays, or the hundreds of thousands who will tune in to watch him in HD.
The only ones whose support he truly needs are the 10 who share the huddle with him on any given play, particularly the five offensive linemen. They are the fat cats who play a central role in whether his agenda — that is, the play that was called — actually succeeds or fails.
Hasselbeck makes no secret about the fact that he still has much to learn about the Titans’ playbook. Already, though, he is comfortable enough with center Eugene Amano that he refers to him as “Geno.”
And he doesn’t simply offer his endorsement to Amano, Michael Roos, Leroy Harris, Jake Scott and David Stewart through the media. He does so in person, too, with a “good job” here or a “thank you” there, or the occasional pat on the back throughout the course of workouts.
In many ways a quarterback’s ability to lead is more important than his arm strength or even his ability to read defenses. Quality leadership comes from the ability to inspire others, and Hasselbeck has gone out his way right from the outset to inspire loyalty in his offensive line.
The ultimate referendum on his performance will be the number of Titans’ victories this fall. It will be a campaign filled with debates, returns and — depending on the weather — maybe even a little mudslinging.
Before he can win games, though, Hasselbeck must influence people. It’s clear that his primary focus is on his offensive linemen.