Can Titans' hopes for Locker hurt him?

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
1:11
PM ET
Every team wants key players to grow into central figures who make up the core of their team.

In the AFC South, no one fits into that any more than Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Jake Locker, the Titans' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, has some mighty high expectations to live up to.
"Everyone -- everyone -- wants to see him succeed," third-string quarterback Rusty Smith recently told Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network. "Jake legitimately cares about whatever person he's talking to, and we all see it. He genuinely cares about their well-being. Not just players. Anybody.”

Locker is a great guy. There is no disputing that. But the question is whether he can be a great, or even a very good, NFL quarterback.

It’s too early to judge.

But that comment from Smith and the article built around it left me contemplating whether an organization can root too hard for a guy to succeed.

Everyone -- everyone -- with the Titans wants to see Locker succeed.

Many of the efforts to make that happen are healthy: The upgraded offensive line, the improving group of wide receivers, a better defense that should get Locker and the offense the ball back.

But does a universal desire by all attached to the team to prove it made the right choice with the eighth pick of the 2011 draft create a temptation -- perhaps just on a subconscious level -- to overlook or smooth over warts? Can it actually hurt him?

I think that's a possibility. If you're rooting so hard, so desperately, for your anointed player to pan out, it can make it hard for you to see him in the clear way necessary.

How long do they stick with Locker in a year where they need to show significant improvements for Mike Munchak to get a fourth year as the team’s coach?

It’s hard for me to envision a scenario where they’d pull a healthy Locker no matter how badly things might be going. They aren’t thinking about the season playing out in any fashion that would put backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in play.

We don’t know for certain what kind of player Locker is going to be yet.

Ron Jaworski of ESPN recently ranked Locker 31st of the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks.

"While Locker has often been talked about as throwing well on the run, a careful look at all his throws reveals that he is erratic with both his clarity and his accuracy," Jaworski said.

Maybe Locker pans out just like the team envisions. We have to be patient, which runs counter to our string inclination to judge, ASAP.

But if Locker struggles, what’s the timetable for the powers to start to shift the thinking from “he’s definitely the guy” to “maybe he’s not the guy?” Or is it Locker or bust for Ruston Webster, Munchak and Dowell Loggains?

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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