By John Boyle Herald Writer
Jake Locker’s homecoming isn’t quite going to live up to his expectations.
That’s not a prediction of how the Tennessee Titans quarterback from Ferndale would fare against a tough Seahawks defense, but rather the reality of Locker’s current health. Instead of facing the Seahawks in front of a large contingent of family and friends Sunday, Locker will be a spectator as he recovers from a hip injury suffered against the New York Jets in Week 4.
“It’s tough,” Locker said on a conference call. “I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to play there and be able to play in front of family and friends and stuff. It’s hard.”
The timing of Locker’s injury is tough for him to swallow not just because it costs him a chance to play in Seattle, but also because he was playing some of the best football of his career before suffering the injury.
A first-round pick out of the University of Washington in 2011, Locker spent that year backing up Matt Hasselbeck before taking over the starting job last year. He was limited to 11 games last year because of a shoulder injury, and completed just 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,176 yards 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, good for a passer rating of 74.0.
This season, Locker led the Titans to a 3-1 start while completing 62.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions, giving him a 99.0 passer rating. With Locker hurt, Tennessee dropped to 3-2, losing last week with backup Ryan Fitzpatrick getting the start.
“It’s disappointing whenever you lose your quarterback,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “But especially for him because he was really starting to be … people were starting to see what we always saw here during training camp and during the season. We saw that kind of player make those kind of plays.”
Locker, who has faced the Seahawks in a preseason game, felt like his team’s offense was starting to come together after a disappointing 6-10 season last year, but now he has to wait, likely at least a few more weeks, before rejoining his team on the field.
“I felt really confident, we were playing really well on offense, kind of catching our stride, and we were doing some things pretty good,” he said. “… The mindset of everybody on this side of the ball is a little bit different this year, and it’s another year of work we’ve been able to put in together.”
Munchak also notes that Locker has taken advantage of being the clear-cut starter through the entire offseason, unlike in the previous two years when Hasselbeck was still with the Titans. Locker agrees the extra work with the first-team offense has helped him and the offense grow.
“Definitely,” he said. “Just from the standpoint of being able to work with the same guy day in and day out through OTAs, through minicamps, through camp, I got to throw to the same guys every day and really build a comfort level with them and a confidence with them, and that’s how I felt playing.”
Locker’s improvement has been so noticeable that Pete Carroll, who until this week wasn’t focused on Tennessee, has noticed the growth in a player he once recruited, then coached against in the college ranks.
“He’s really playing well,” Carroll said. “His accuracy on all kinds of throws, whether it’s down-the-field stuff, movement stuff, the stuff up top, he’s very sharp. He’s had no interceptions in his first games playing. He has run well, and you can really see the growth. He’s really commanding the offense and he looks great. He looks like a really top-flight quarterback off to a great start in the season.”
That start, unfortunately for Locker and the Titans, has been delayed by injury. He’ll still be back in Seattle this week and likely get to catch up briefly with some friends and family, but the dream homecoming will have to wait. Even some Seahawks, who stand to benefit from Locker’s absence, are a bit upset by it. Well, at least one Seahawk.
“It’s a bummer,” said receiver Jermaine Kearse, who was Locker’s top target at Washington. “With him being my quarterback for three years at Washington, we finally get to go against each other. Well not necessarily go against each other, but our teams face each other. I would like to beat him.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.