All eyes are on the quarterbacks. But the pressure is on those who catch their passes.
The Tennessee Titans entered the next phase of their offseason program Wednesday when players went through an organized team activity (OTA) for the first time. It was the first opportunity for Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker to run the offense against the defense and, therefore, the first chance for the coaches to measure the quarterbacks against one another.
From now until some point in training camp, the competition between Hasselbeck and Locker will be the most scrutinized and discussed of any involving the Titans.
“It can put a little pressure on some of the receivers, especially if you’re going with the second group,” wide receiver Nate Washington said recently. “If there’s an open competition and you know it, you don’t want to be that guy that’s out there dropping his passes. That’s the kind of thing that’s in the back of your head.”
It is no secret that it is, in fact, an open competition between Hasselbeck, the 14th-year veteran who started all 16 games last season, and Locker, the eighth overall pick in 2011 and the only one of the first five quarterbacks drafted last year who did not make a significant impact in terms of playing time and production.
Coach Mike Munchak said days after the final game of last season that the battle was on. He reiterated that idea repeatedly throughout the offseason.
“It all comes down to who is going to give you the most plays,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said last week. “In Matt's situation he gives us some plays by throwing the football. He's very, very good at it. … He gave the other guys an opportunity to make plays. Now you bring Jake in, well Jake may now give all the other guys the opportunity to make plays like Matt does but Jake can make plays with his legs.”
Wednesday’s workout was closed to the public and the media. According to a team spokesperson, it lasted roughly two hours and included all the typical drills, including seven-on-seven passing and some 11-on-11 work. It was the first time players were allowed to practice in helmets.
The decision on a starting quarterback likely will not come quickly. It will, however, be obvious at some point, Palmer said.
With so many people watching, including the other players, there ought to be no shortage of opinions along the way.
“I think going into the [training] camp and later on in the year you'll have a better feel,” tight end Jared Cook said. “Right now it's kind of just getting back to work as one [unit]. … Both guys can get the job done so I'm not really worried. We're going to have good chemistry so I think we'll be OK.”
It is up to Cook and the other pass catchers, though, to help the quarterbacks look as good as possible.
“You just have to come in knowing in the back of your head, especially if you’re that guy with the second group, that this could be an important time for the guy you’re catching passes for,” Washington said. “You have to make sure you show up for him.”