Jake Locker won through failure.
It was his ability to deal with and learn from mistakes that ultimately led to the Tennessee Titans’ decision to name him their starting quarterback. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft was informed by coach Mike Munchak on Sunday night and the team formally announced the move Monday afternoon.
“I’m a big believer in [the idea that] things happen for a reason and there’s a plan for everything that goes on,” Locker said. “I believe that you make mistakes and you make them because it allows you to learn from them and become better and try not to duplicate them. I think when you’re able to do that then you’re able to progress, not only on the field but in life.
“So, for me, that’s kind of what I’ve always tried to focus on. Mistakes, although in the moment might seem like a bad thing, can be a great thing because they can make you a better player and a better person if you’re able to take them and learn from them.”
With just 66 regular-season passes and no starts to his credit, Locker is not likely to be perfect on Sept. 9, when the Titans open the 2012 season at home against the New England Patriots.
The growing pains figure to continue throughout this season and beyond. No one expects him to make the same mistakes twice, though, and given the number of things the coaches believe he already does well, they are willing to live with whatever missteps occur in the coming weeks and months.
“Yeah he’s young,” Munchak said. “He’s got stuff to learn. But it’s nice to know that a guy who has a lot to learn can handle failure a little bit. He handled it in college — when his team wasn’t doing well he battled through it and played well. I think he’s shown that that’s one of the characteristics we liked about him when we drafted him.”
At 24 years old, Locker is 13 years younger than last year’s starter Matt Hasselbeck, now the backup. He has a stronger arm and more ability to run with the football than his predecessor.
What he lacks is experience. In 13 NFL seasons, Hasselbeck has thrown for more than 33,000 yards, which ranks him fourth among all active quarterbacks, has been to the Pro Bowl three times, the playoffs six times and led his team to the Super Bowl once. His 3,571 passing yards last season — his first with Tennessee — was the fourth-highest total in team history.
“I would say everyone has a really good confidence level about [the decision] and I would put myself in that category as well,” Hasselbeck said. “If you look around the league at guys who are playing, I think [Locker] is definitely better than a lot of the guys who are playing. … He’s been ready, I’d say.”
The decision came, however, only after an entire offseason and almost a full training camp during which Munchak said the two competed on equal footing.
It was clear, though, that ‘the competition’ was not so much between Locker and Hasselbeck, it was between Locker and the vision the Titans had of him when they selected him after five years in which Vince Young and Kerry Collins traded off the position.
While practice time was split almost evenly, Locker started a game for the first time in last Friday’s preseason victory at Tampa Bay and got more work through the first two weeks of the preseason as coaches looked for all the things they wanted to see. Even though he completed just four of 11 passes against the Buccaneers they had seen enough.
“There was always that sense of competition, which — whether you had a good day or a bad day — forced you to try to come back and rebound or build on what you had done the day before,” Locker said. “… [Munchak] had mentioned that’s something he wanted to see out of me … how I responded to negative plays, how I responded to maybe having a bad day out here.”
All that’s left now is for him to prove that the Titans made the right choice — when they drafted him and when they elected to make him their starter.
The plan is for Locker to play 40-50 snaps in Thursday’s preseason game against Arizona (7 p.m., LP Field) and to get the bulk of the practice work with the first team between now and the start of the regular season. That, the hope is, will be enough time for him to make — and overcome — a few more errors.
“The game last week, we know he made some mistakes,” Munchak said. “He didn’t let them get him down; he came back, in the same game, made some good decisions on very similar situations. … When he left the field, we were up 20-7. So, we take all of that into account, and we just feel his time is now. He has proven that to us.”