Matt Hasselbeck knew the situation when he signed with the Tennessee Titans a little more than a year ago.
Three months earlier they drafted Jake Locker eighth overall with the idea that he would be the starting quarterback. Eventually.
“When I got here I think it was just a matter of time in terms of when they thought he was ready to go,” Hasselbeck said. “I think that’s really it, and I think they think he’s ready to go. I can’t disagree. I think he’s done a great job. I think he’s improved. And I think he’s showed a lot of promise.
“I’m excited for the opportunity that he has. As disappointing as it is, I’m definitely excited for him.”
Hasselbeck kept Locker at bay throughout the entire 2011 season, when he passed for more than 3,500 yards. He started all 16 games for just the fourth time in his career and threw for more touchdowns than he had in any of the previous three years.
In the first season with a new coaching staff and in the wake of a lockout that canceled all offseason training activities, he helped the team to a 9-7 — their first winning season in three years — and kept them in playoff contention all the way to the last week of the regular season.
“I respect him as a player,” coach Mike Munchak said. “He’s come in here and done so much for me as a head coach — a new head coach. He really helped me get my job done last year. That meant a lot to me, and I know to this team.”
Ultimately, though, Locker’s draft status and long-term potential meant more.
He joins Steve McNair and Vince Young as quarterbacks selected in the first round by the franchise to start for the franchise. McNair, the third overall selection in 1995, waited for almost two full seasons behind veteran Chris Chandler. It took just three games before Young, the third overall pick in 2006, replaced veteran Kerry Collins for the first time.
McNair went 8-8 in 1998, his first season as the starter, and a year later guided the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance. Young went 8-5 as rookie and was named the league’s offensive rookie of the year in 2006, was 22-12 as an on-again, off-again starter of the next four years but never won a playoff game.
“As early as possible, is what I was hoping for,” Locker said. “I can honestly look back on last year and say that I grew a lot as a player and as a person. I’m thankful for the situation that I was in, and I’m thankful for the one I continue to be in.”
Hasselbeck’s situation is nothing new to him. Only the timing of it is a little different.
The last time he was not the starter for his team’s regular season opener was 2000, the last of the three years he spent with Green Bay as an understudy to future Hall of Famer Brett Favre. With Seattle, he lost the job to Trent Dilfer for seven weeks — beginning with the second game — in 2002 but started the final nine games and closed with three straight victories.
“You do have to shift your mindset in terms of playing the role of backup quarterback,” Hasselbeck said. “It’s a little different. It’s a little bit tougher in some senses, but it’s just as important and if the team calls on you and needs you to answer the call you need to be ready. … You have to play just as good as the starter and that’s what they expect.”
It’s a role they always expected him to play. Eventually.
“In terms of Jake, what I was told specifically is that they were going to go at Jake’s pace — if he was ready to go last year; if he was ready to go in four years, whatever that might be,” Hasselbeck said. “I think that his development as a quarterback in all areas has been impressive.
“… I’ve been in his shoes. It’s an exciting thing for him to have the chance to help lead a franchise or help build a program and have a chance to be the guy under center. … I’ll help and support him any way I can, and I’ll be happy to do it.”