‘Mutual respect’

  • By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, August 3, 2011 1:37pm
  • Sports

There will come a time when circumstance tries to pit them against each other.

When the Tennessee Titans fans flock into Nashville’s LP Stadium to watch a football game, they’ll grumble about how the veteran is standing in the way of The Next Big Thing’s path to stardom. Or how the Titans would be more competitive with the experienced quarterback in the huddle and the rookie on the sidelines.

All that comes later. For now, the budding relationship between former Seattle sports centerpieces Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker can be summarized in a single word.

“It’s been fun,” Locker said of having Hasselbeck in meeting rooms since the veteran signed on to join him as a Titans quarterback. “We have fun in the meetings, in between the meetings. He keeps it light.”

A relationship that began with admiration from afar — albeit, not that far — has blossomed into a friendship and business partnership. But it took 2,400 miles, and $33 million over a pair of contracts, for the two quarterbacks to finally be side-by-side in the same meeting room.

“There’s immediately trust and respect there,” Hasselbeck said when asked about Locker during his initial press conference in Nashville on Saturday. “It’s not like we’re best friends from high school, but we’ve got a lot of the same mutual friends. I certainly respect who he is and what he’s all about and his professionalism.

“I just think there’s a mutual respect there. He’s a great kid; he’s easy to get along with.”

Beginning Thursday, they’ll start practicing alongside each other and compete for the same starting job.

Hasselbeck, who spent the past 11 seasons playing quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, and Locker, who recently finished up a four-year career at the University of Washington, have been well aware of each other for a while. But they didn’t actually meet in person until the spring, when some Seahawks players worked out at UW during the NFL lockout.

That first meeting set in motion a few future throwing sessions between the two quarterbacks at UW. Locker said they never talked about the possibility of one day playing together, and yet that’s exactly what is about to happen.

Hasselbeck has been in Nashville since Saturday. By NFL rules he has not been allowed to begin practicing with the Titans until Thursday. Locker has taken most of the snaps with the first team over the past few days, but Hasselbeck’s addition to practices means the battle for a starting job officially begins Thursday.

Locker shrugged off the possibility of competition putting a strain on their relationship.

“As far as I’m concerned, we both want to go out and help the team win,” he said this week. “The decision is not ours, so we’ll both do the best we can in practice and on the field and see what happens.

“I’ve never been one to distance myself from the guy I’m competing with. I just do what I can and let the people who make the decisions decide all that.”

Hasselbeck said he’s less concerned about trying to be a mentor than he is about continuing to be a successful NFL quarterback.

“The best way to teach somebody is to try to do your job with excellence each and every day,” he said during his Saturday press conference. “I’m sure there are things I can learn from him. I’m just going to try to be the best that I can be, really buy into what this coaching staff is wanting everyone to do, wanting from me.”

For Hasselbeck, the role of mentor is a somewhat natural one. He has stressed on several occasions how important the mentorship of former Seahawks teammate Trent Dilfer was to his development, and Hasselbeck appears willing to fill a similar role for Locker.

But he hasn’t always opened his arms in the role of mentor. Hasselbeck was obliging but not always BFF friendly with past Seahawks up-and-comers such as David Greene and Charlie Whitehurst.

Locker, who never really had to compete for a starting job at UW, said the presence of Hasselbeck can only help his development.

“It’s nice,” the eighth overall pick in the April draft said. “He’s a guy who’s been there and done that. On and off the field, there are things I can take from him. … I’m a younger guy in this league trying to figure out how to be successful, and he knows what it takes.”

How far that will carry Hasselbeck remains to be seen. But before the competition splits the Titans’ fan base, Hasselbeck and Locker are happy to be together again in another part of the country.

“I’m excited about it,” Locker said. “He’s a guy that’s been in the league a long time.”

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