Jake Locker’s shoulder won’t be 100 percent by Monday, when the Tennessee Titans move into the next phase of offseason training.
At least there won’t be anyone looking over it.
An unexpected development in recent weeks was the decision to waive quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and replace him with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t necessarily the best move for the Titans given that Hasselbeck quickly signed on with a division rival, the Indianapolis Colts. It certainly wasn’t a career highlight for Fitzpatrick, a starter for most of the last five seasons.
Ultimately, though, it could turn out to be the best thing for Locker.
Any ambiguity about who is in charge of the offense is gone. The only thing that can keep the 2011 first-round draft pick from being the unquestioned leader of that unit now is Locker himself — and leadership ability never has been one of the knocks against him.
Sure, coaches named him the starter midway through last summer’s training camp and teammates voted him one of the captains, but Hasselbeck always was there. The same Hasselbeck who started every game in 2011 and who was the starting quarterback in two of last season’s first three victories.
Not that the veteran was — or ever would be — a disruptive force. It’s just that there was an undeniable big brother-little brother element to their relationship – and Hasselbeck undeniably was the big brother.
It was a product of their first season together, when Hasselbeck was the starter and Locker was more of a student then he was a backup. Hasselbeck embraced the role of mentor and taught Locker everything from how to take notes in a meeting, how to study film and how to read defenses.
That can be a tough dynamic to undo even when the spots on the depth chart are reversed. It is more difficult when, as was the case last fall, the new guy struggles after the old guy had kept the team in the playoff hunt all the way to the end of the season that he was the starter. It is likely that Locker never truly could feel like the job was his as long as Hasselbeck was around.
With Fitzpatrick there is no such issue. The eight-year veteran said he understood from the moment that the Buffalo Bills waived him last month that his best bet for his next job was to sign on somewhere as the backup to a young starter.
That’s exactly what he did with the Titans. He came to be Locker’s backup right from the start.
He has more experience than Locker, but he lacks the credentials of Hasselbeck. He’s never finished a season with a winning record as a starter. He’s never been in a playoff game, let alone taken a team to a Super Bowl the way Hasselbeck once did.
Sure, he can teach Locker a thing or two and he certainly will, but he’ll do so from the back seat. He’s never had his hands on the wheel here so it is easier for Locker to see himself as the one who is driving this machine — and for his teammates to view him in that regard.
There are still questions about Locker’s accuracy, his ability to win on a consistent basis and whether or not he can stay healthy. He has yet to fully recover from offseason shoulder surgery so his ability to perform full football activities is limited.
Those answers won’t come until the fall. For right now, though, there is nothing to keep him from taking a firm hold of the offense, as any starting quarterback should.