NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have done another quarterback shuffle, not that the moves impact Jake Locker.
Locker, who played at the University of Washington, is the Titans’ starter and while Tennessee signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, coach Mike Munchak said there is no quarterback competition. It’s Locker’s job and it’s time for him to take charge and show what he can do.
“He knows the challenge,” Munchak said while attending the NFL owners’ meetings in Phoenix.
“It’s just him working hard now. I think we have the pieces around him that will help him be successful,” the coach said. “That’s all we can do. Now it’s a matter of letting it unfold with him coming into camp being the guy. Let him feel what it’s like. There’s no competition. It’s his ball, let him run with it and see what he can do.”
Locker played five games as a rookie and was named the starter for 2012. But he hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder in the opener, an injury that kept him out five straight games and limited him all season. He is 211 of 380 for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 TDs in his career, including a 55.5 percent completion percentage.
Now Locker is going into his third season having had surgery in January to fix his shoulder, and the Titans have added a handful of free agents to improve the offense. After a disappointing 6-10 record last year, Munchak likely has to win to keep his job.
“For us, for me, it’s just stay healthy so we can see where he’s at,” Munchak said. “We feel really good about him. Obviously, we wouldn’t have drafted him if we didn’t feel he had all these traits to be a special quarterback that, in my opinion, he hasn’t had a chance to show yet.”
The Titans have been very busy in free agency trying to improve the offense around Locker.
They made a splash the day the market opened last week landing Buffalo guard Andy Levitre, plugging in a veteran at left guard hours after veteran Steve Hutchinson retired. They also signed tight end Delanie Walker, replacing Jared Cook who left as a free agent for St. Louis. Shonn Greene also was signed to pair a physical running back with the speedy Chris Johnson.
On Tuesday, the Titans agreed to terms with guard-center Rob Turner as they continued revamping the interior of their line.
Munchak said they want to be a physical football team again. Johnson ran for 1,243 yards, helping them rank 10th with an average of 4.5 yards per rush. But they ranked 26th in total yards on offense last season and last in time of possession with 27 minutes, 18 seconds per game.
The Titans believe Greene can play all three downs and may get a full series to himself at times to give them options.
“With a young quarterback, we have to start moving the chains better and making that time of possession better,” Munchak said.
Then the Titans cleared some more salary cap space after all that spending by cutting veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on Monday. Hasselbeck, 37, had been due to count $7.5 million against the cap in his third season, and the Titans agreed to terms with Fitzpatrick by that night. Hasselbeck is staying in the AFC South where he’ll be backing up Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
Munchak called Hasselbeck a great fit for him as a new head coach in 2011 coming off the NFL lockout. He said Hasselbeck also was a great mentor for Locker, and the Titans were trying to redo the veteran’s contract to reduce his $5.5 million salary for 2013.
“Then all of a sudden some different opportunities opened up for him and for us,” Munchak said. “It just seemed like it was going to end up being best for both of us. I’m happy for him. And we were very lucky, we feel, to bring in a quarterback that’s really going to be a great complement to Jake Locker.”
Fitzpatrick will be competing, helping to push Locker to improve. But Munchak said Fitzpatrick knows his role.
“Ryan’s been in this situation before,” Munchak said. “He knows that Jake is going to be the guy; he is going to be the No. 2. He’s going to compete with him and help him a lot throughout the week. He’s been in the league. He’s been through the ups and downs of the NFL. He can win if he has to play. That’s how we felt with Matt Hasselbeck also.”
The way Locker scrambles, the Titans wanted a quality backup like Fitzpatrick.
“Unfortunately we have a quarterback who runs around a little bit, so there’s a chance that that second quarterback is going to play a lot,” Munchak said.