NFL Nation: Jake Locker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the last two seasons, Jake Locker has suffered shoulder, hip and knee and foot injuries that have cost him 14 of 32 starts.

There was a fluke element at play, for sure.

But it also showed that Locker lacks a certain quarterback trait that the best guys have: a knack for not getting hurt.

It sounds a little crazy to suggest there is such a thing, I know. But the best quarterbacks in the NFL find ways to stay in the lineup. And for Locker, or any other young guy, to have a chance to become a consistent, quality starter, he’s got to develop it.

“I think there is part of it that’s what you do in the offseason,” Locker said. “I’ve felt that I’ve always taken pride in keeping myself in good shape, keeping myself strong and setting myself up to best prevent those things. But sometimes, it’s outside of your control and there is nothing you can do about it.

“I think that continuing to follow that same path of keeping myself in shape and strengthening my body is going to be important for me. But at that point, once I get an opportunity to go out and play, it’s not worrying about that and just playing, What happens, happens.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he doesn’t know if staying healthy at quarterback is a skill.

“There are definitely some things with Jake that I think we can talk about with him being a little bit smarter,” Whisenhunt said. “Not lowering his shoulder and running a guy over. Now, let’s face it. If it’s fourth-and-1 and you’ve got to get the first down, this is football there is no substitute for that so you’ve got to do those things.

“But if it’s third-and-25 and he’s going to have a gain of 2 yards, then there is a time there – and I know I’m overdramatizing it – but there is maybe a time when you can scale that back. And those are things that we can talk about. But it’s a violent game, it’s a competitive game, and those high-level guys, they’re competitive.

“I guess the long answer to that it, we’re certainly going to look at that and try to make it more judicious in some of the physical plays that he makes.”

The shoulder injury was from a sack where Locker failed to adjust the protection and got buried when he didn’t feel Glover Quin coming in Houston. The knee/hip came on an incomplete pass when Locker was hit by Jets tackle Muhammad Wilkerson. The foot injury came on an option run against Jacksonville.

If Locker is going to successfully change his image as injury prone, he’ll have to do part of the work by developing a better feel for staying out of dangerous situations.
Keith BulluckRich Gabrielson/Icon SMIKeith Bulluck was a mainstay at linebacker for the Tennessee Titans.
In April 2000, coming off a Super Bowl season, the Tennessee Titans had a solid roster and were drafting 30th.

With Randall Godfrey, Eddie Robinson and Greg Favors on the roster, the Titans weren’t in need of immediate help at linebacker.

The Titans drafted Syracuse linebacker Keith Bulluck anyway.

And for two years, he was mostly a special-teams player, starting just four games while the team stuck with experienced guys in front of him.

For the seven seasons after that, Bulluck was a permanent fixture at right outside linebacker, and after 10 seasons with the Titans he ranked as the best linebacker the franchise has had since it came to Nashville.

For the Titans, Bulluck is the ultimate model of drafting the best player available.

But best player available is largely a fantasyland idea. If the best player available when a team goes on the clock is a guy who plays a position where said team just signed its star to a long term-deal, guess what? It’s drafting someone else or looking to trade back.

Best player available typically means best player available at a position of reasonable need.

Let’s look at the Titans' last 10 first-round picks and the level of need the team had at their positions.

2013 – Guard Chance Warmack (10th)

The Titans were coming off a year with major injuries on their offensive line, and interior line help was priority one.

2012 – Wide receiver Kendall Wright (20th)

Nate Washington and Damian Williams finished the 2011 season as the starters, with Kenny Britt gone after three games with a torn ACL. The other Titans receivers, Lavelle Hawkins and Marc Mariani, were bit players at best. Wright was a bit of a surprise, but receiver certainly qualified as a position where there was room for a weapon out of the slot.

2011 – Quarterback Jake Locker (eighth)

The Titans parted ways with Vince Young and moved on from Kerry Collins to Matt Hasselbeck. With a new coaching staff in place, the team needed a young quarterback to build around.

2010 – Defensive end Derrick Morgan (16th)

The team’s top pass-rusher, Kyle Vanden Bosch, had moved on to Detroit as a free agent. And the contract clocks were ticking on Jason Jones and William Hayes.

2009 – Wide receiver Kenny Britt (30th)

The team’s 2008 receiving corps was Brandon Jones, Justin McCareins, Justin Gage, Lavelle Hawkins, Chris Davis and Paul Williams. There was not a dynamic guy in the bunch. Jones had moved on to San Francisco as a free agent and McCareins wasn’t going to be back.

2008 – Running back Chris Johnson (24th)

The Titans were ready to move on from Chris Brown, who signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans. The Titans needed someone to go with LenDale White in the backfield.

2007 – Safety Michael Griffin (19th)

The Titans were, mercifully, done with Lamont Thompson, whose game has devolved. Despite the need for a free safety, the Titans put on an extensive charade where they pretended Griffin would be a cornerback. He started 10 games at free safety as a rookie.

2006 – Quarterback Vince Young (third)

The Titans were ready to move on from an aging Steve McNair and Billy Volek had lost stock. It was time for the Titans to try to find their next quarterback, and the top guys – Young, Jay Cutler and Matt Leinart -- were all highly regarded.

2005 – Cornerback Pacman Jones (sixth)

Samari Rolle and Andre Dyson were the starters in 2004. But Rolle was gone after the season as part of an unavoidable salary-cap purge and Dyson went to Seattle as a free agent. Tennessee had a big need at cornerback when it drafted Jones.

2004 – Traded out of first round

The Titans picked tight end Ben Troupe in the second round, 40th overall. Frank Wycheck retired after the 2003 season, Erron Kinney’s knees were a problem and Shad Meier had established he was going to be a bust.

If all those guys rated as the best player available on the Titans' board, then one of two things happened:

  • The stars regularly aligned where the guy they rated as the best guy and a significant need corresponded.
  • Their boards were heavily weighted toward need.

Best player available is a rare thing, like Bulluck was a rare player.

Best player available at a position of need is usually what it really means.
The quarterback the Tennessee Titans are pinning their hopes to in 2013 is making progress in his recovery from the serious foot injury that ended his season.

Jake Locker told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean that the hardware needed to repair a Lisfranc injury in his right foot has been removed, and that he is out of his walking boot.

“Surgery went really well. Foot feels awesome and rehab is up and rolling,” Locker told Wyatt Thursday via text. “Doctors were happy with how things looked so (I’m) just continuing to follow that trend.”

That’s encouraging. The sooner Locker is all the way back and able to work with coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Jason Michael and quarterbacks coach John McNulty, the sooner he learns the offense and the better chance he has of excelling in it.

The Titans can be better with coaching upgrades, system changes and roster revisions. But they can only go so far without solid play and a consistent presence from Locker.
Earlier Thursday in a video, I wondered if the Tennessee Titans would make a move on a quarterback if one of the top three slipped to No. 11 in May's NFL draft.

ESPN draft gurus Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. touch on the same question in this podcast .

At around 20:30, their discussion turns to Tennessee and the 11th pick in the draft.

McShay says poor accuracy and decision-making offset Jake Locker’s best qualities. Locker is much more accurate under crisis and when he’s on the run than when he’s inside the pocket when things are clear and the picture is clear too, says McShay.

If Teddy Bridgewater is available when the 11th pick arrives, McShay would have no issue with the Titans tabbing him. That may not be their plan but plans have to shift on draft day based on what unfolds.

Kiper thinks the Titans are at a major crossroads. Beyond Locker, they have a laundry list of names that are at a point where we’ll find out if they’re decent or can make the jump to very good.

The Titans' roster is better than a lot of people give the team credit for, says McShay. It comes down to the quarterback as it does in so many situations.

“If you put Andrew Luck with this team, you’d be talking about a potential Super Bowl team,” McShay said.

McShay seems higher on the Titans overall than Kiper is.

There are some similarities to the Seattle Seahawks of a few years ago, McShay says. The Seahawks were building their offensive line and adding a lot of pieces and were ready to make a big jump when they found their quarterback in Russell Wilson.

Tennessee needs to take some chances while it looks to break in a quarterback this year and next.
Bill O'Brien, Ryan FitzpatrickGetty ImagesRyan Fitzpatrick, left, offers Bill O'Brien's Texans stability as they search for their QB of the future.
The Houston Texans' quarterback shuffling started in earnest Thursday night with some inter-division trading when the Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick less than a week after the Tennessee Titans released him. Fitzpatrick said on a conference call today that he’s coming in to compete, and that Bill O’Brien hasn’t boxed him into a “mentor” role or anything else just yet. But his ability to mentor whatever young quarterback joins the Texans' roster (or even one of the young guys currently there) will be important for the Texans this year.

Here, ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and I tackle Fitzpatrick’s move from both angles. So Paul, what kind of relationship did Fitzpatrick have with Titans quarterback Jake Locker as the two intersected in Locker’s third NFL season?

Kuharsky: They got along well. There was no tension about who was in what role. Locker won the starting job from Matt Hasselbeck a year earlier. The Titans thought Hasselbeck was starting to fade and was too expensive, so they cut him and brought on Fitzpatrick. Everyone knows he’s smart since he went to Harvard. I think he’ll be a good resource for a draft pick to lean on in terms of how to be a pro and all of that.

Is the sense in Houston that while Fitz throws too many picks, he’s a cheaper option to keep the seat warm and be a resource for a draft pick than Matt Schaub would have been?

Ganguli: There is no parameter under which it didn’t make sense to do this for the Texans. They had to move on; Schaub’s time was done. They just needed to make sure to get something for him. Fitzpatrick is cheaper while offering some of the same things Schaub would have offered on the field and in the classroom. They replaced what would have been an $11 million salary for 2014, which includes a $10 million base and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, with Fitzpatrick, who will make $4 million this year.

You addressed why the Titans cut Hasselbeck, but why did they cut Fitzpatrick last week?

Kuharsky: GM Ruston Webster said they just didn’t play well enough when Fitzpatrick was at quarterback last season, and that’s fair. I have trouble imagining Charlie Whitehurst will be better -- at least Fitzpatrick has some real experience. But Whitehurst was with Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego last season, and the Titans avoided a roster bonus and saved $3.25 million by parting with Fitzpatrick.

He’s very much a shotgun guy who is not very comfortable under center. How do you see that fitting with Bill O’Brien?

Ganguli: O’Brien is adaptable, and I think he’ll be able to work with that. Intelligence, size and at least some mobility are important for O’Brien’s quarterbacks as they will be asked to process a lot. I think those things are in line with what they will get with Fitzpatrick.

One thing that was interesting from Fitzpatrick’s conference call today is that he said being released by the Titans turned out to be a good thing for him. He said he had a lot of options and wound up in what he considers a better situation. What do you make of that?

Kuharsky: No player who just got dumped says where he lands is a worse situation. But he could have avoided that topic altogether. We have a lot to learn about both the Titans and Texans with their new coaching staffs and schemes. Obviously the Texans have some talent. But this idea that they can bounce back into a playoff-caliber team from 2-14 in a year is getting a little tired for me. Both the Texans and the Titans have new coaching staffs. I’m not so certain the one that finished five games worse is the better situation.

Fitzpatrick said he drew a lot of interest. What was the draw of O’Brien?

Ganguli: Sounds like two smart football minds were drawn together. They're both Ivy League guys, though somehow you were let into an Ivy League school, so maybe that doesn't mean anything. I kid, I kid. Seriously though, to hear Fitzpatrick talk about his affinity for the mental aspect of the game and the strategy sounds a lot like what you hear about why O'Brien loves football. Fitzpatrick is also very well connected around the league, as you know, and he's talked with plenty of people who know O'Brien well and spoke very highly of him. "Not only his mind and the way that he thought about football, but treating guys fairly and demanding the best out of you and all that stuff," Fitzpatrick said. "It was nothing but positive reports from people I really trust."

On drafting quarterbacks regularly

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jake Locker is in line to be the Titans' starting quarterback in 2014.

But he’s going to have competition and Tennessee hopes the group is better overall.

Right now it’s Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyler Wilson.

Expect a draft pick as well.

“I really think you probably should look at the quarterback position every year,” general manager Ruston Webster told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “I’d like to take that philosophy moving forward.”

Ron Wolf, the former GM of the Green Bay Packers, believed in drafting a quarterback every year. Hit on them at any kind of decent rate, you develop the most important commodity in the league, give yourself options, make trades and upgrade draft picks.

The thing that makes it somewhat difficult is that to take an approach like that, a team without a clear-cut franchise signal-caller probably has to commit to carrying three quarterbacks.

In the Titans' case, it’d be the presumptive starter in Locker. It’d be the veteran backup in Fitzpatrick or someone like him who could play when needed but not require regular practice snaps. And it’d be the rookie or second-year kid like Wilson.

The loser of that last spot could be rated as a practice-squad talent, but there would be very little practice work for the third guy, let alone the fourth.

Here's some detail on drafting quarterbacks from Michael Bonzagni of ESPN Stats & Information:

In the last 10 drafts (2004-2013), there have been a total of 126 quarterbacks taken.

Most QBs taken in last 10 drafts:
  • Broncos: 7
  • Jets: 6
  • Eagles: 5
  • Packers: 5
  • Browns: 5
  • Ravens: 5
  • 49ers: 5
  • Redskins: 5

The Titans have drafted three in that span, tied for 24th most.

Two of the three quarterbacks the Titans have taken in that time frame have been first-round picks -- Vince Young, third overall in 2006, and Locker, eighth overall in 2011.

That's tied with four other teams (the Broncos, Browns, Bills, Redskins) for the most QBs taken with first-round picks.

Tennessee is the only team in the last 10 drafts to use two different top-10 picks on QBs.

There have been a total of 28 quarterbacks taken in the first round in the last 10 drafts, 16 with top-10 picks.

The Titans also took Rusty Smith with a sixth-round pick in 2010.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Five things to be conscious of as the Tennessee Titans get set to watch workouts at the combine Saturday through Tuesday:

It’s not the workouts: Of course they will watch workouts with interest, but those aren’t going to sway opinions much. The two most important things in Indianapolis are the medical checkups and the chance to interview guys. The Titans will come back to Nashville with a full medical file on every guy and they will have talked to a good percentage of the players they are interested in, either in the short formal sit-down or the more casual secondary setting.

Tweeners are big: For as long as they’ve been in Tennessee, the Titans have been a straightforward 4-3 defense. They made the right call in 1999 when they looked at Jevon Kearse, judged as a tweener who might be an end or might be a linebacker, drafted him, installed him at end and watched him become a difference-making pass-rushing force. But they steered away from a slew of other guys who weren’t clearly 4-3 ends or 4-3 outside linebackers. Now, with a hybrid defense on the horizon, the franchise will be looking at guys who are not clearly an end or an outside linebacker in a different way. A flexible guy able to rush from the edge in different ways could have a whole new appeal. Those guys work out on Monday.

The quarterback plan: The three most powerful football people in the organization are endorsing Jake Locker as the team’s quarterback. Still, the team needs quality alternatives if Locker doesn’t pan out in 2014 or if he gets hurt again. It will be hard for a rookie to find sufficient snaps to develop, but the team should be thinking it needs maximum options at the position. The Titans won’t be in range of the top three quarterbacks. But might they be in the process of falling in love with a lower-ranked guy like Jimmy Garoppolo, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray or David Fales? Meeting them could advance those feelings.

Same page: Ruston Webster’s scouting staff has watched these players for some time, but in-season they were picturing them in the scheme the team ran under Mike Munchak. In pre-combine meetings, they discussed altered thinking. Here is a chance for those scouts to mingle more switch with Ken Whisenhunt and the new staff. And in meetings to come, those coaches will further spell out what they feel they need and the scouts will continue to revise their thinking about who has the qualities the evolving scheme needs.

Planting seeds: I can't see the Titans moving up in this draft. They are already without a third-round pick and aren't going to get any compensatory picks. Odds are it will be difficult to resist a talent at No. 11. But if they can bump down a few spots, still get someone they love who can be an immediate impact guy and gain a pick or two, it’s surely an option they’d consider. Most teams will know that, but perhaps Webster will have a chance while standing alongside a colleague or two to plant a seed that grows into something in early May.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One by one, they have faced the same questions.

One by one, they have given similar answers.

When the topic is Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, general manager Ruston Webster and coach Ken Whisenhunt talk enthusiastically and optimistically.

When the topic is Chris Johnson, Smith, Webster and Whisenhunt are far more reserved, talking about how a decision has yet to be made, and not offering so much as a lukewarm endorsement.

I know the trio in power to varying degrees. But none of them has anything on his resume that I am familiar with to suggest he doesn't tell the truth.

Given that, I'm not finding it difficult to interpret things.

Money is not an issue with Locker this season. He’s got a cap hit of a little more than $4 million and a salary of $2.091 million, which is guaranteed. He remains an injury-prone unknown, but they want to give him every chance, and they don’t have a good alternative on the roster at this time.

Money is a huge issue with Johnson, who collected $10 million in each of the past two years and is scheduled to make $8 million more this year. That’s a high price for a self-proclaimed playmaker who averaged 3.9 yards a carry and maxed out with a 30-yard run in 2013. He has spent more time publicly assessing the offensive line and his coaches than being accountable himself.

If he’s cut, it won’t necessarily be in line with the start of the new league year on March 11. Per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Thursday morning at the combine Webster said "we can be as patient as we want to be" regarding a decision on Johnson.

Said Whisenhunt of CJ: “He practiced every day from what I’ve seen when you look at the records from last year, and he played in a lot of games, and he’s been a good football player.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a coach doing a cartwheel about a player he’s inherited.

The Titans aren’t going to come right out and tell us much on hot-button issues when they don’t have to. Maybe they wait to make a move with CJ until they draft his replacement.

If the plan is to keep him and have him on the field in 2014, they’re doing him quite a disservice with their tepid answers. But that is not what they are doing. They are getting Johnson, his agent and his fans ready for a divorce.

They are endorsing Locker and avoiding saying anything substantive about Johnson.

Oftentimes I advise we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

Here I am far more inclined to say, jump away.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts, as you've known for months, do not have a first-round pick in May's draft. That's not to say general manager Ryan Grigson won't be wearing his fingers out texting and calling other NFL front office folks.

While the biggest challenge for the Colts -- if things remain the same -- is finding a few special players starting with their pick in the second round, the other teams in the AFC South have tough decisions to make when it comes to selecting in the first round.

That's what happens when you played in the worst division in the league last season.

Houston Texans (No. 1) -- Do the Texans, the biggest disappointment in the league last season, take hot shot Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the first pick? Manziel thinks they should. He also thinks the Texans will regret it if they pass up on him.

"It would be the worst decision they've ever made," he said smiling to the Houston Chronicle and Fort Worth Star Telegram last week. "I'd be in the same division playing against them twice a year. Sorry, but you just turned that chip on my shoulder from a Frito into a Dorito."

Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3) -- Manziel may not get past the Jaguars at No.3 if the Texans pass on him. Or Jacksonville may not even take a quarterback with that pick. They could also go with pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

"In today's day and age, if you can't get Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan, and they might not be available for the next 10 or 15 years, then you have to adapt and build the roster and do what's best for the organization," Jaguars general manager David Caldwell told "And if a quarterback presents itself later in the draft, you take and develop him. Having a franchise guy makes the world a lot easier, though. It can erase a lot of mistakes you make. But if you force it, you can screw it up. I don't know if we're going to find that guy, but I hope we do."

Tennessee Titans (No. 11) -- The Titans aren't interested in a quarterback. They're sticking with Jake Locker for the time being. The scouting combine is the first time new coach Ken Whisenhunt will have live interaction with draft prospects. The Titans are intrigued by defensive players who can play in the 3-4 scheme. Mel Kiper Jr. had the Titans taking offensive tackle Taylor Lewan from Michigan with their pick.

The goal for all three teams is to try to pass the Colts as the best team in the division.

NFLN survey/Super Bowl QB: Titans

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's the 2-minute warning and the Super Bowl is on the line. Who do you want at quarterback?

Our anonymous player survey asked 320 players that question.

Tom Brady won by a lot, with 40 percent of the vote, followed by Peyton Manning (26.9), Aaron Rodgers (10), Drew Brees (6.6) and Ben Roethlisberger 20 (6.3).

The Titans, obviously, are a long way from having a guy who would garner a vote in such a poll.

Only 14 guys got votes, including two for Matt McGloin, who was a Raiders rookie at the time.

What do you think happened there?

I'm not sure if Jake Locker or Ryan Fitzpatrick took the Titans to a Super Bowl and won it with a 2-minute drill in 2014 that he'd get a vote if we conducted the same poll next year.

The next big thing: Titans

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s next for the Tennessee Titans?

Once Ken Whisenhunt fills out his staff, the Titans need to assess their roster and decide who fits at his scheduled price and who doesn’t.

The biggest question is Jake Locker at quarterback. Indications are Locker will have every chance to be the Titans’ guy in 2014, but the team could still look to add another QB.

But more broadly, the team needs to sort out its defensive front.

A shift to a hybrid front that will feature plenty of 3-4 is coming.

I’m sure they see defensive tackle Jurrell Casey as a fit for the scheme, and he’ll likely be an end in the 3-4. Akeem Ayers came into the league projected by many as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Beyond those guys, who do the ends and outside linebackers sort out? Does Sammie Hill project as the nose tackle? How badly does a team that often didn’t have a quality middle linebacker need to add in order to field two quality inside linebackers?

Those are among the big questions the Titans have to answer as they plot what to do in free agency and the draft.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt's big assessment of Jake Locker will come after the new coach is in his post, not before.

At this stage, he's leaning on the opinion of the general manager, Ruston Webster, who picked him out more than the other way around.

"I really trust Ruston and his assessment of our team, and his staff, and I think that's part of the process," Whisenhunt said. "Plus, you can look at some of the things that he had on tape. Hopefully I'll get a chance to sit with him and talk with him, because that's a big piece of the puzzle too.

"Everything I've heard about Jake as far as a student of the game and how he works, has been positive. With the successful guys that I've been around, that's a big piece of it, so that'll help."

The question has never been about whether Locker will be on the roster in 2014 -- he's got a salary of just over $2 million and it's guaranteed. It's more about the quarterbacks Whisenhunt and the Titans are compelled to also have on the roster.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is heading into the second year of a two-year deal and Tyler Wilson was signed late in the season as a developmental guy. Rusty Smith is set to become a free agent.

Locker has said he's OK with competition so long as he's got a shot at claiming the starting job. I think he'd be wise to tell Whisenhunt in their first meeting that he intends to be the starter and will do whatever it takes to earn the role.

"I'm excited about the hire and looking forward to having the opportunity to work with coach Whisenhunt," Locker told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. "He has always had very successful offenses and I look forward to learning from him."
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans auditorium has never been as full as it was for Ken Whisenhunt's introductory press conference.

He was what a team wants on this day: Cool, comfortable, conversational.

When it was over, the building was filed with renewed hope, just as it is after every coaching hire and introduction in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Ken Whisenhunt
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNew Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said he will be evaluating his new players over the coming weeks and months.
It marks an organizational reset, and buys the Titans the same thing for someone like me that it should buy with its fan base.

A clean slate that comes with a fresh start and time to show us who he is, what he will be, how the staff he hires will convey his messages and teach, who he will choose to play and how they will perform for him.

Like a lot of people, I'm anxious to see what he brings.

But while he offered a much more presidential feel in his first press conference than Mike Munchak typically did, Whisenhunt didn't say a great deal.

Most of the questions he got, he'll get again, until he's had time to do the work to have more of an answer.

He deferred on opinions regarding quarterback Jake Locker and running back Chris Johnson and most specifics regarding what he's inheriting.

“We just got finished with our season two days ago," he said of the San Diego Chargers for whom he was offensive coordinator. "It's been a whirlwind. There is a lot of time that goes into that especially when you get into the playoffs. So I really haven't had a chance to study that.

"That's going to be a big thing over the next weeks and months, as far as evaluating out players and how they fit in. The one thing I'll say is, I liked Jake coming out. And one of the things that I think we've done a good job with in the places I've been is putting them in positions to be successful. And that's what our goal is to be here.”

I don't fault Whisenhunt for not having a more thorough answer. Ideally, a candidate has had time to study the roster and the tape and can tell a team his vision for important people and pieces.

Whisenhunt was busy with the Chargers' playoff run, though, and he was simultaneously a hot commodity in the coaching market.

The Titans didn't hire him because of his specific plan for Locker or Johnson or anyone.

They hired him because they believe he will craft a plan that maximizes those players and anyone else he inherits, as well as those he helps bring in.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- On Monday, Mike Munchak stood in front of reporters and said, until I’m told otherwise, I'm the leader of this team.

Quarterback Jake Locker should have done the same.

David Boclair of the Nashville Post argues that well in this piece.

Like his coach, Locker lacks the presidential persona required of and expected from his position. And it’s not a media thing here, it’s a public presence thing -- we just happen to be the middle men.

Locker had a chance to set a tone, establish some expectations, show us offseason pocket presence. He chose not to. At a time when he should have asserted himself and let people know he views himself as the team's top leader, I’d venture a guess he didn’t even consider it.

That's not a fatal flaw. But it is disappointing for a guy heading toward his fourth year.

There is a lot of confusion about Locker going forward.

Munchak still may not be back. Chris Johnson may not be back.

But no matter the coach and the other quarterbacks on the roster, there is no reason Locker won’t be back.

The Titans have an option for his fifth year -- 2015 -- this spring. That would line him up for a 2015 season paid at the transition tag rate, north of $13 million. They shouldn’t go near that, obviously.

But that has no bearing on 2014. The fourth year of his initial contract is guaranteed and worth only $2.09 million with a cap number just over $4 million.

The only reason the Titans would cut him would be if they were angry with him (they’re not), had the evidence to judge him a bust (they don’t, that’s a scenario for Blaine Gabbert) or if their roster was loaded with better quarterbacks (it won’t be).

I can’t pretend to know his status on opening day of 2014, though I expect he will be in line to start.

His spot on the roster is not, and should not be, in question.

The case for and (more) against Munchak

December, 27, 2013
Mike MunchakJim Brown/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak has a .091 winning percentage versus teams finishing the season with winning records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Monday the Titans begin the process of deciding what to do with Mike Munchak, who’s under contract for one more year as head coach.

Let’s set aside all the predictions and expectations.

We know very little about how team president and CEO Tommy Smith will operate in his new role and how he will balance his family’s long-term relationship with Munchak against the results he’s produced as a head coach. We don’t know if Munchak has the backing of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We do know what goes into the case for him and the case against him. So let’s examine those and then delve into things I consider significant issues where I don’t see a clear counterargument in his favor:

For: The Titans are on the verge. They’ve lost six one-possession games this season. Make the jump in just half of those and they could be a 10-win playoff team.

Against: They are unable to finish games, and there is no reason to expect they find it all of a sudden under the same leadership.

For: The division is bad and there is room to get better in a hurry against rebuilding Houston and Jacksonville.

Against: The Titans are 3-8 in the division in the past two seasons and 1-4 this year heading into the finale against Houston. Tennessee lost to the Texans and Jaguars this year when it should be sweeping those teams when they are having down years. That’s the path to actually competing for the division.

For: This roster has stood firmly with Munchak. There has been no dissension. They haven’t quit on him and have been playing hard to the end. His message is working. They work hard to execute what is asked of them.

Against: Having a roster of guys committed to following a coach who’s not doing a good job is nice, but if he’s not doing a good job it doesn’t matter as much. What is asked of them isn’t right often enough. This team’s in-game adjustment to what opponents do is typically poor.

For: Smith has pledged another big offseason, and the Titans will create a spring and summer buzz much like last year’s, when they spent over $100 million on free agents and had the 10th pick in the draft.

Against: The fan base is angry and/or apathetic. The tickets are bought, in part because so many people are financially committed with PSLs. But that hasn’t meant they have showed up. A new coach and staff will also have a free-agent class and draft and that will do a lot more to get Nashville interested.

For: Though they were overmatched, the Titans stood toe-to-toe for a good while with some of the NFL’s best -- Seattle and Denver. They lost twice to the AFC South champion Colts by a combined 11 points.

Against: Munchak is 2-20 -- not a misprint -- against teams that finish the season with a winning record. Whether they are close to the caliber of those teams or not, that is a .091 winning percentage against winning teams. How can Smith endorse that?

For: They could be one player away, and we’ve seen them make a big addition and a big jump before.

Against: The odds of landing Jevon Kearse are small, and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers had more pieces in place than the 2013 Titans do.

For: They’ll move away from Chris Johnson and by doing so they’ll be in line to have the run game they expected this year. This offensive line needed time to jell. In 2014, Shonn Greene and a mid-round draft pick will be more effective.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsMike Munchak wanted the Titans to be a run-first team but inconsistency in the run game plagued Tennessee all season.
Against: Three years in and a Hall of Fame offensive lineman as a head coach with a Hall of Fame offensive line coach still haven’t produced a team that can run consistently. How can they possibly say, “We need more time” and get it? How did lines with injuries in Seattle and Miami manage to play well enough to win? They have to replace David Stewart at right tackle, right? Another change positions them for more excuses about needing time to jell.

For: The Titans didn’t have their starting quarterback for nine games this year. Who wins without their starting quarterback? Injuries to Greene and center Brian Schwenke also hurt.

Against: It would be a good argument if Jake Locker was a proven NFL franchise quarterback. He is not and they sold Ryan Fitzpatrick as a top-flight alternative. We know Locker has potential and is injury prone. Pinning hopes on that for 2014 seems dangerous. The Greene and Schwenke injuries should not be regarded as hugely impactful and are on par with the sort of thing every team in the league deals with.

For: He doesn’t care about the peripheral stuff; he’s not going to play the game. He just wants to coach and do things the right way.

Against: Tough for him. A head coach is a CEO and the responsibilities require more. You have to be a PR guy and a marketer. He doesn’t embrace that stuff and it hurts the franchise. You can’t play the “I just want to coach” card until you’ve proven you can win.

A few other things don’t fit as neatly in a for-and-against format and mostly qualify as arguments against his return.

I think it’s very difficult to make a case for him based on his work in the division, his record against winning teams and his inability to explain what’s wrong.

Warped thinking: Munchak endorsed a foolish onside kick approach with an unconventional, tee-less spinner that kicker Rob Bironas clearly did not like. Worse, the coach judged his team to be 1-for-3 with it rather than 0-for-3 because San Francisco bobbled the kick before recovering it. Note to Munchak: Such a kick is judged a success if, and only if, you recover it. We know it’s very difficult to do. We also know it’s ridiculous to deem one a success when the other team comes out with the ball. Lo and behold, the Titans recover a conventional, high-bounce onside kick during a furious comeback against Arizona.

Straying from his philosophy: Over and over Munchak spoke of how the 2013 Titans would be able to get the tough yard on the ground. These Titans were going to throw it when they wanted to, not when they had to. But given a chance to win the Arizona game with 10 seconds left with a two-point conversion play from the 1-yard line after a penalty, he chose overtime. The team he promised shouldn’t have even considered kicking the extra point. In sharing more about his logic a day later, he said the team hadn’t run it in an hour as it played hurry-up to overcome a big deficit. Shouldn’t a team built around the offensive line and backs be able to run for a yard whether they’d been running it or not?

Salesmanship: He’s a better salesman than he is a head coach. In memorializing Bud Adams when he died, he spoke about how he used to walk the hallways of the team’s facility on a Saturday before the game with Adams and Adams’ friends, looking at the pictures of the team’s history and telling stories. It showed me that Munchak was shrewd in how he dealt with the owner, playing right into what the owner liked and taking Adams right where Adams liked to go. It endeared him to his boss and did a lot to make him the choice when the team and Jeff Fisher parted ways. I expect he will do well selling Smith on the plan going forward. But the team gets better by adjusting the plan, not by selling the plan better to a new person at the top of the organization. Old-time Oilers memories should mean nothing now.

Lame duck: His résumé certainly doesn’t warrant an extension. That means he and his staff would be working as lame ducks in 2014. Lame-duck scenarios aren’t typically healthy. They make it hard to attract players and assistants. They make it easy for a team to tune out if and when things don’t go well.




Sunday, 2/2