Tennessee Titans: Jake Locker
There were, and still are, questions about the Titans' quarterback.
He's got more freedom and more responsibility than ever, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
"I feel really comfortable and I really feel like I understand what we're doing offensively and I have ownership of it," Locker said. "So I thank (this coaching staff) for challenging me early. At this point, I really feel like I understand what's going on in this offense better than I have in the past."
Where, precisely, can we see an example of that?
Left tackle Michael Roos provided Glennon with an excellent one. Locker's actually allowed a blitzer a lane knowing he would find a beneficial throw out of it.
"There are times at practice when he's made himself the hot guy on purpose because he knows a receiver on that side is going to break off his route and it will be a good play," Roos said. "So there's that kind of stuff. It might not look right to us, but if he wants to do it and he knows what he's doing, then obviously it's going to work out."
That example is a solid development for Locker, and the Titans.
He’s hit on 68.6 percent of his passes at 9.88 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and two interceptions, four sacks and 97.2 passer rating.
The Titans are pleased.
But their quarterback depth chart has not changed.
“Zach is (getting) more comfortable," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “I still think at times he struggles with some things. Which is not uncommon for a young player. It’s been invaluable, the amount of reps that we’ve gotten him and how he’s performed. I think it’s been fantastic.
“He’s done a good job, he’s really made some plays for us. I think some things that really stand out about Zach is he’s got a good pocket presence, he’s made some accurate throws. It was nice to see him throw balls only to our team last night. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities to improve. That’s good to see.”
But with all of that, Whitehurst remains the guy the Titans will turn to if Locker goes down.
I asked if it’s in the realm of possibility that Mettenberger would be the backup on Sept. 7 in Kansas City.
“Unless it was an injury situation, no,” Whisenhunt said. “Charlie’s had a very good preseason, too, and a very good camp. And I’ve said Charlie was the two coming in. I don’t think that’s going to change. I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got a group of quarterbacks that we feel comfortable with.”
A good percentage of fans won’t like that.
I know it’s hard not to get caught up in a shiny new thing. And watching Mettenberger throw is fun. He's got a tremendous arm and has anticipated pretty well. But Whitehurst has been better than I expected and it makes sense, if you’ve got to insert a cold backup without much practice work, for it to be a guy who’s got more experience in, and understanding of, the team’s offensive system.
If the Titans need a long-term sub then Mettenberger should be considered, and I expect he will be, particularly if that need comes later rather than sooner.
For a game-day insert, Whitehurst is the right choice at this point.
Things can evolve to be different, but not based on Mettenberger’s work against mostly third-teamers in August.
Whisenhunt’s been intentionally -- and I would argue, unreasonably -- vague about playing time plans in advance of preseason games. He left open the possibility Mettenberger will start the preseason finale against Minnesota at LP Field Thursday night.
I can’t see it.
While Jake Locker is in a good spot, he talked after the game in Atlanta about how the offense still needed to communicate better. The offense isn’t at a point where it would not benefit from the starting quarterback and offense getting a bit more work together.
We don’t know if Whitehurst’s finger will allow his return or be best served by another game off.
Either way, Mettenberger will play a lot on Thursday.
And then he and Whitehurst won’t play for a good while if things break the way the Titans are hoping they will.
The Titans want Jake Locker to scramble smarter, using good judgment and avoiding unnecessary contact, says David Climer of The Tennessean. "You have to understand what the situation of the game is -- if 2 or 3 yards is worth it or not," Locker said. "You have to be conscious of that before you go to the line of scrimmage."
The Titans periodically play a snap of defense with all 11 players standing up. John Glennon talked to Derrick Morgan and Jurrell Casey about how it works.
Kendall Wright is on the All-Underrated Team and Michael Roos is on the All-Declining Team, per Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.
Who are the most indispensable Titans? I’m surprised by Climer’s choice at No. 3, though the case can be made.
Bernard Pollard was put off by Johnny Manziel’s middle finger to the Washington bench, says Jim Wyatt.
Zach Mettenberger has played more snaps in the preseason than any rookie quarterbacks except Teddy Bridgewater and Manziel, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster will get return chances at some point in the next two preseason games, says Joe Fann of the Titans website.
Yes, receiver Justin Hunter and quarterback Jake Locker are blazers. But beyond them, in their first season post-Chris Johnson, not many of their players shock you when they open up and run.
It turns out they may be faster than I thought.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland pieces together a way to measure team speed -- looking at primary skill-position players, using combine 40 times adjusted for age.
It’s inexact, but it’s as good as any approach we could assemble.
Much to Barnwell’s amazement, and mine, the Titans are the fastest team in the NFL by these measures.
The Titans are actually above-average at nine of the 10 positions in this lineup; only Bernard Pollard (4.73 age-adjusted 40-yard dash) is below-average at his respective spot, while the likes of Jake Locker (4.57) and Justin Hunter (4.46) are among the fastest players at their positions. Tennessee also has the fastest pair of cornerbacks in the league with Jason McCourty (4.40) and Coty Sensabaugh (4.37) booked to start.
In addition to those guys, Barnwell used Bishop Sankey, Jackie Battle, Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker and Michael Griffin.
Lack of quarterback speed drags down some of the top offenses and teams in the NFL. Denver (28), New Orleans (30) and New England (32) don’t fare well at all in this metric.
Speed may not matter as much as we tend to think. Philadelphia may be the most clever, modern offense in the NFL and the Eagles are 23rd here.
Tennessee will be more inventive on offense with Ken Whisenhunt calling the plays. Hopefully for the Titans, Hunter will run past people, Locker can hurt defenses when he takes off and speedy corners McCourty and Sensabaugh can help limit deep balls.
Speed can still kill. Since the Titans have it, they need to show how.
Thanks for your participation.
Paul Kuharsky: The fumbling is a problem. Ken Whisenhunt said it's one of a number of things a rookie running back needs to sort through. I think Sankey is a guy who will learn from and resolve mistakes quickly. I liked the way he answered questions about a pass-protection flub in his first game and improved in that area in his second chance.
Paul Kuharsky: Where? At this point, good as Taylor Lewan's been, Michael Roos and Michael Oher have been taking care of their business and not leaving the door cracked. An injury anywhere but center and Lewan would be the guy. Otherwise, there doesn't look to be a spot for him to start.
Paul Kuharsky: Definitely carrying three. In games, at least early on, Charlie Whitehurst is the guy they'd want taking over. The game-day No. 2 won't have had much work during the practice week. If Jake Locker is out for an extended period, they could turn to Mettenberger given a chance to game plan for him and give him a full practice load. Mettenberger did some good things for sure. But let's not forget that Whitehurst has been doing good work -- better than many of us thought him capable of.
Paul Kuharsky: The Titans and the NFL have not chiseled it in granite that it has to be Maikon Bonani or Travis Coons. Coons has been pretty good. His trajectory was my biggest concern and it's improved a lot of late. He said they were working on quickening his approach and once they got that down he got back to his typical swing. They will have alternatives to the winner if they want them.
Paul Kuharsky: I'm not really sure what you think the scope of possible answers to that one is. They need to play better. There needs to be a better rush in front of them to help them play better.
Paul Kuharsky: I think Jake Locker is better. I think it's a better offense with a better scheme and better coaching, all of which will help him. Better enough? I don't know that. He still makes more bad choices than a QB you are hanging your hat on should.
Paul Kuharsky: I thought the one pass interference on Jason McCourty was a bit shaky. But overall I didn't have a huge argument with the officiating. It's on players to follow the rules and concern themselves with what's going to be called, not to count on the officials easing up.
Jake Locker played well in preseason game No. 2, with 8-of-11 passing for 75 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 121.5 in two possessions, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
To which I say: An encouraging showing, particularly with the first drive for a touchdown after the defense gave up a score to open the game.
The Saints had more, but the Titans did their part to bog down the game with penalties, says Wyatt.
Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger played extra and put up big numbers back in Louisiana, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Taylor Lewan played a good game at both tackles spots, but drew two penalties, says Glennon.
Travis Coons had a productive night and is putting serious pressure on Maikon Bonani, says Wyatt.
Shonn Greene didn’t seem worried about his knee injury, says Wyatt.
Justin Hunter discusses his big night. Video from the team website.
Postgame quotes via the team’s website.
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham continued to dunk the ball over the goalpost even though it’s now a penalty. ESPN.com's Mike Triplett’s story.
The Tennessee Titans turned the ball over five times at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and didn't do close to enough to offset the giveaways against the New Orleans Saints.
Tennessee lost 31-24 Friday night in New Orleans, despite the hosts' handing away 184 yards on 22 accepted penalties, including eight of the Titans' 28 first downs.
Penalties were the biggest story of a lengthy game, and the Titans made their own large contribution in that department, with 10 for 111 yards. The Titans didn't have a takeaway on defense or special teams to make up for their turnover troubles.
Here are some other thoughts on the Titans' second preseason game:
- Receiver Justin Hunter was the offensive star, with a great leaping catch on the left side of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown from Jake Locker. That one looked a lot like the sort of practice catch Hunter has been making regularly. Hunter also grabbed a pass in the middle of the field from rookie QB Zach Mettenberger and took advantage of a falling defender by taking off into space and coasting the rest of the way for a 64-yard score. He finished with four catches for 111 yards.
- The penalties provided a couple of side benefits for the Titans. Kicker Travis Coons got to follow up a made 45-yard field goal with a make from 50 yards after the first three points were waved off by an illegal formation call against Tennessee's Karl Klug. Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's insistence on dunking the ball over the cross bar after his two scoring catches meant two kickoffs Marc Mariani got to field and return in his bid to beat Leon Washington for the returner job. Mariani took those two a combined 55 yards, though 21 were chopped off the second because of a return team penalty.
- A week ago, Mettenberger lost a ball he held too low against the Green Bay Packers, and it happened to him again in New Orleans, when Cameron Jordan swiped a ball away from him at the Superdome. Mettenberger entered the game ahead of schedule after No. 2 Charlie Whitehurst suffered an injury to his throwing hand, and the rookie finished 20-of-25 for 269 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, the lost fumble and two sacks. His TD throw to Hunter was in the second quarter. Chase Coffman caught a 1-yard scoring pass right at the end, when Mettenberger's laser bounced off Marini and Coffman plucked it out of the air.
- Rookie running back Bishop Sankey was nifty on a couple carries, as he took five handoffs for 31 yards and had at least one very good snap in pass protection. But he lost a fumble a week after a botched handoff counted against the quarterback trying to give it to him. It's been something we've seen at practice too. He's got to get that resolved right away. In addition to Mettenberger and Sankey, running back Shonn Greene and receiver Derek Hagan lost fumbles.
- Per a tweet from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Ken Whisenhunt didn't seem concerned after the game, even with injuries to Whitehurst, Greene (knee) or right tackle Michael Oher (arm).
Better tackling is a necessity for the Titans, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. "Last week's start was really more about fitting gaps (properly) and tackling, so that's the area of focus," Ken Whisenhunt said.
The things Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean and most of us will be looking for Friday night as the Titans play in New Orleans. It’s really time for some more kicker developments.
Vince Young landed a job at the University of Texas, says Wyatt.
Can guys who showed up last week do it again, asks David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
In the mind of Will Brinson from CBS Sports, a worst-case scenario for the Titans includes neck beard-growing contests between Charlie Whitehurst and Zach Mettenberger as they vie to replace an injured Jake Locker.
Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey is a part of former NFL GM Mark Dominik’s Ultimate NFL Roster , where he puts together 53 players but stays under the salary cap.
DaQuan Jones is trying to get away from that split second of hesitation as the rookie defensive lineman gets into the swing of things, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. “"It was my first game and I was overthinking everything and was playing slow," Jones said of the preseason opener. "That's just not me, and it's not how I play football. So in practice, my emphasis now is just getting off the ball, being as physical as possible and trying to make plays -- and see if that will carry over into the games."
Jake Locker had some passes knocked down early in practice on Wednesday, says Glennon.
Marc Mariani is upbeat despite a tough outing in the Titans’ first preseason game, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.
To which I say: Mariani’s attitude about such things and regarding his bid to make the roster is really good. I respect his approach. He doesn’t get ticked off when his status is questioned. He says he understands such thinking and works to change it.
The kicker competition is a concern, says David Climer of The Tennessean.
Long-snapper Beau Brinkley is both anonymous and secure, says David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
The final piece in a four-part series looking thoroughly at Locker’s potential. “Jake's shown enough consistency and talent in meaningful areas, that the Titans can probably find a way to scheme around his deficiencies, but at one point or another he's going to have to overcome these issues.”
- Receiver Justin Hunter continued to make things difficult on cornerbacks on jump balls. He went up and got one over Coty Sensabaugh from Jake Locker. He jumped over rookie Marqueston Huff for another. He skied to the crossbar in the back of the end zone to pluck another with Sensabaugh nearby.
- Charlie Whitehurst had to call “ball” on one throw up the right side for Michael Preston, who turned but wasn’t ready and watched it sail through his hands, though he had some room on Micah Pellerin.
- Locker threw a duck that found the ground quickly when it looked like he was aiming for Nate Washington with Blidi Wreh-Wilson in coverage. Locker seemed to be trying to stop himself from throwing it, but the motion was well underway and it came out of his hand. Wound up harmless.
- Other red-zone TD catches besides Hunter’s: Marc Mariani from Whitehurst and Chase Coffman stretching at the back line from Zach Mettenberger.
- Linebacker Zaviar Gooden didn’t get his head around on a Whitehurst throw for Taylor Thompson, but Gooden got his arm up to hit the ball for a breakup.
- While the Titans have been very reserved with their kickers, Brett Kern punted for the second day in a row.
- Whitehurst was "sacked" when the he dashed left and ended up swallowing the ball. It looked like the play was supposed to be a handoff to Bishop Sankey but was unclear who made the mistake. Sankey made some nifty moves on a couple of carries.
- Whitehurst threw an interception to Huff in a ball intended for Isaiah Williams.
- DaQuan Jones is working as the second nose tackle, and Al Woods is also in the loop there behind starter Sammie Hill. Antonio Johnson has been out for a while in recovering from a knee scope. Jones and Woods can play inside or out, while Johnson doesn’t bring the same versatility. He’s likely in trouble.
- Travis Coons hit field goals of 38 and 44 yards at the conclusion of two-minute drill work by the offense. Whisenhunt said Maikon Bonani's groin was bothering him a little bit. Coons hit both field goals on a better trajectory with room to spare. He told me he was hitting the ball a bit lower than usual as he worked with snapper Beau Brinkley and holder Kern to speed up the snap, hold, kick process. Now that they’ve made progress on that he’s getting his natural swing back and getting more height on his kicks.
- Whisenhunt said he will allow players to go home after they return from their trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game. That ends camp in one way. But Whisenhunt said while the Titans will structure next week like a normal practice week, that they will still work ones against ones and rotate people in competitions. For him, camp really ends when the first round of cuts come and as the team focuses on planning for an opponent.
- That likely means the practice rules change next week and you won’t be seeing any more of these practice reports. Hope you enjoyed them and they gave you some insight.
Linebacker Colin McCarthy could be heading for season-ending shoulder surgery, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. McCarthy will see Dr. James Andrews on Monday.
The Titans are developing a feel for rookie running back Bishop Sankey, says Wyatt. "This offense has to do it collectively, and make the splash plays that C.J. [Chris Johnson] made,” Ken Whisenhunt said. “But we believe in him, and what we have seen so far, we like what we see."
Defensive lineman Antonio Johnson is rehabilitating from a recent knee scope, reports Wyatt.
Predictions on running numbers for the Titans' top three backs, from Wyatt.
Three years ago, Jake Locker played great in New Orleans against the Saints in the Titans' final preseason warm-up, recalls David Boclair of the Nashville Post.
Wesley Woodyard makes Sports Illustrated’s All-Overrated Defensive Team and Michael Oher and Chance Warmack make the All-Overrated Offensive Team, both put together by Doug Farrar.
To which I say: Maybe that’s what Oher read that got him talking about being disrespected. I know he feels he played better last year than many scouts and analysts gave him credit for. And GM Ruston Webster has said the Titans hope to get him back to form from earlier in his career -- as compared to getting the version who played in Baltimore last year.
There are more questions than answers at inside linebacker, says Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus upon his review of the Titans' play against the Packers. Taylor Lewan scored well.
Tuesday practice notes from Wyatt.
Tuesday practice notes from Joe Fann of Titans Online.
- The offense played a lot better than it did on Monday, with Jake Locker throwing three red-zone TD passes a day after he was shut out. There was still some sloppiness. Jackie Battle dropped two passes, and Taylor Thompson dropped one. Shonn Greene had a fumble, though he didn’t run the customary punishment lap which may have been because it was ruled to happen after the whistle (though there isn’t really a whistle).
- In seven-on-seven work Charlie Whitehurst connected with Michael Preston on a deep ball over cornerback Ri'Shard Anderson. I’ve noted before that Whitehurst has put a lot of air under a lot of his deep stuff. This one was more of a line drive.
- Kendall Wright continues to look amazing. It looks as if his confidence is as high as possible, and anything thrown near him is practically a sure thing. I hit him several times on Instagram.
- Justin Hunter also had several good catches, beating Jason McCourty on a go route and going up easily over Tommie Campbell in the back right corner of the end zone in red zone 1-on-1s.
- Bishop Sankey ran more authoritatively than he did a day earlier, when he fumbled a couple times. He had two live goal-line chances from the 2-yard line. The first was debatable -- I wasn’t sure he got in, he said he’s biased but admitted it needed a tape review. He was stuffed pretty quickly on a second snap.
- Both sides were feisty. Bernard Pollard and Nate Washington had an extened back-and-forth hollering at each other, as did Daimion Stafford and Leon Washintgon. Washington told Stafford, “You can’t hit me” to which Stafford replied “You’re too little.” That exchange was repeated several times. Linebacker David Gilbert, back after a stretch out with a shoulder injury, flung tight end Chase Coffman to the ground to start a fight that spilled over. The Gilbert-Coffman dustup wasn’t anything beyond ordinary but leaked into a couple different shoving matches.
- Right after that scrap, Anderson picked off Zach Mettenberger in the back right corner of the end zone. Anderson's been making some plays, but also gets beat. He seems like an all-or-nothing type at this point.
- Derek Hagan caught a mid-range pass near the numbers on the right side in between a lot of defenders. I feel like he’s consistently good at finding that space on that play or ones similar to it.
- It was a horrific day for the offense, which came out flat and had mistakes in every area you can think of. There were multiple drops, fumbles, interceptions and bad snaps. Ken Whisenhunt downplayed it as one bad day, and of course it was, but the degree of badness was alarming. Said receiver Derek Hagan, who dropped a pass near the end of practice “It was bad, we didn’t get anything going at all. It was a crazy day. Nobody was catching the ball, bad blocking, missed assignments. Just an overall bad day.”
- Shonn Greene had a fumble that Zach Brown recovered. Bishop Sankey fumbled twice, the first recovered by Brandon Copeland and the second bounced back to Sankey.
- Kendall Wright streaked across the middle to collect a Locker pass, beating Jason McCourty. Michael Preston made a nice catch over Coty Sensabaugh up the left side from Charlie Whitehurst. Taylor Thompson had a couple more nice plays.
- Jake Locker made a bad throw for Nate Washington in the right side of the end zone in red zone work. Tommie Campbell may have pushed off, but he easily collected the bad throw.
- Whitehurst threw a terrible pick as he looked for Marc Mariani to his right. The line drive throw was easily caught by Blidi Wreh-Wilson who was practically halfway between quarterback and his target. Perhaps the worst play of all on a terrible day.
- Daimion Stafford had a nice breakup of a throw for Mariani, whose helmet popped off in the process. Ri'Shard Anderson broke up a Zach Mettenberger dart for Hagan. Wreh-Wilson had a too-easy breakup of a Locker pass for Dexter McCluster. The defense made some plays, for sure. But more of the offensive failures were self-inflicted.
- Justin Hunter wore a jersey that said “J A G” across the back instead of “Hunter.” He said Whisenhunt and receivers coach Shawn Jefferson talked to him after he forgot to convert a route Saturday night. Hunter didn’t know they’d follow through with the jersey, but they did. He said he’ll continue to work to be more than “just a guy.”
- Hunter made a nice play in the middle of the field, winning a contested ball from Locker by taking it away from safety Michael Griffin.
- Among the targets with drops: Delanie Walker, Preston, Washington (who had a chance to recollect the ball on the sideline but bobbled it until his feet were out), Thompson, Hagan.
- Guard Andy Levitre said he played one game at center for the Bills against Miami and was bad at it. Whisenhunt reminded a questioner that he’d said in the past he intended to work Levitre a little at center to prepare a contingency. Now with Chris Spencer (ankle) out, it was the right time. Levitre said he lost focus and snapped as if the quarterback was under center a couple times when he wound up rolling balls past Zach Mettenberger. Ultimately, they put starting center Brian Schwenke in with the third team to settle things down.
- Kickoffs: Maikon Bonani put one 9 yards deep and another 4 yards deep into the end zone. With less hang time, Travis Coons put one kickoff 4 yards deep. Coons also punted some.
Locker didn’t handle the ball well in the weather. He needs to do better with that, but anyone would have had a hard time with it.
He only threw two passes. As David Climer of The Tennessean illustrates, one of them was a third-and-3 fade for Justin Hunter that wasn’t close.
The good thing was that Locker was in football action and got hit for the first time since Nov. 10, 2013. He wasn't sacked, but he did run twice.
As for assessing where he stands, we really got no significant update.
Blame Mother Nature that we have another week before learning more.
The Titans are at New Orleans Friday night. There will be no conditions to deal with in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
1. Utilizing Locker: Quarterback Jake Locker plays in a game for the first time since he injured his foot on Nov. 10 against Jacksonville. He’s said getting hit will be the final hurdle in being all the way back. We get our first real look at how the new Titans staff might use him and what he’ll be asked to do. Don’t look for much designed movement; Tennessee will save most of that for the regular season. Poise, command, chemistry and all the typical preseason buzzwords for a quarterback trying to solidify his standing will be the things we evaluate after Locker comes out of the game.
2. Situational play from the 3-4. Ray Horton’s new scheme will be unveiled, though we don’t know how many wrinkles we'll see. Throughout recent practices, going to the nickel has meant nose tackle Sammie Hill leaves the field, ends Jurrell Casey and Ropati Pitoitua pinch toward the middle and outside linebackers Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley work as if they are stand-up ends. I’m curious to see how base vs. nickel looks and what, if any, confusion the Titans' defense can cause, particularly for Aaron Rodgers for however long he plays.
3. Kicker competition. Ken Whisenhunt has consistently minimized what the kickers in competition have done so far, but it has to start making positive or negative impressions starting here. Maikon Bonani has the superior leg, but he’s been less consistent and accurate than Travis Coons. This game will include extra points snapped from the 25-yard line, and that should increase the film the Titans get on these two. They’ve alternated kicks in practices, so I’d expect that is how they will be used tonight, though Whisenhunt couldn’t yet say the plan on Thursday.