Titans' returnees impressed with rookie QB Jake Locker's leadership, willingness to learn

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 10:05pm

Jake Locker has yet to throw a pass in an NFL game but he is already gaining fans — his teammates.

The rookie quarterback most likely won points with his new teammates and coaching staff when he was the first Tennessee Titan to show up at Baptist Sports Park on Tuesday. It marked the first day players could voluntarily report to team facilities after the 136-day lockout ended on Monday.

The former University of Washington quarterback actually arrived at about 8:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the gates were unlocked. He was joined shortly after by fellow quarterbacks Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff. They were the first of more than 20 Titans who shuffled in three days before they are scheduled to report for training camp.

“He already had his playbook in hand,” punter Brett Kern said. “I thought I was going to be the first one in and he was already there looking at it. I asked him if he wanted to join me for my tee time [Tuesday] afternoon. He said ‘no’ for obvious reasons. He is ready to go. He is dedicated. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Locker appears to be making a good impression since the Titans selected him eighth overall in the NFL Draft in April. Last month, he flew in from his hometown of Bellingham, Wash., to attend a two-day mini camp at Father Ryan High School organized by Titans players.

What stood out to tight end Jared Cook about Locker then was “just his willingness to learn but also to step up and kind of be the voice.”

“The first day he came in, he kind of was being a little player-coach,” Cook said. “He was giving and taking a little bit; learning as well as giving his advice on some things. Just his willingness to be here and just wanting to learn the offense, be involved with the Titans and kind of accepting his new home is pretty awesome to me.

“I mean the man already has a house here,” Cook added.

Locker is the frontrunner to start when the Titans began their season on Sept. 11 at Jacksonville. But he’ll receive competition from Smith and most likely a veteran quarterback. Kerry Collins retired a couple weeks ago and the Titans are reportedly interested in signing Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck to help take some of the pressure off Locker.

Whoever takes over will be a pleasant change from the previous starting quarterback. Vince Young’s five-year marriage with the Titans should come to an end soon as he is expected to be released or traded by the club by Friday. Young battled with the previous coaching regime, most notably former head coach Jeff Fisher. The tipping point came last season when he stormed out of the locker room during a team meeting after a game.

It is uncertain how quickly Locker can jump into the fold. But one thing’s certain — he is already making a better impression than his predecessor did.

“It is not an act in any way. It is who he is,” offensive tackle Michael Roos said of Locker’s early arrival. “He genuinely wants to be the best he can be and know everybody on the team. He wants to learn them as best and fast as he can so he can come in here and contribute and help us win.”