The arrival of Jake Locker
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, the Seattle Seahawks should be blushing.
Their blueprint was mimicked this off-season by a team with multiple Seattle connections, the Tennessee Titans.
So what does that mean for Washington native and QB of the Titans, Jake Locker? He will flourish much as Russell Wilson did, garnering success somewhere in between Wilson’s actual stats last year and the lofty expectations for him this year.
Locker grew up in Ferndale, Washington, about 30 minutes north of me, and the buzz in the area around the young athlete was deserving.
I had the opportunity in 2005 to watch Locker lead the Ferndale Golden Eagles to a 14-0 record and a state title, and was marveled by his poise and ability in both the passing and running games.
After high school, Locker was drafted by baseball’s Los Angeles of Anaheim, but he did not sign with the team.
Instead, he opted to stay in state and pursue a football career with the Washington Huskies. His time with the Huskies helped nurture his work ethic and refine his game, all while becoming a state hero.
Even though the Huskies largely had horrible teams, Locker elevated the team to great moments such as a 16-13 win over a then #3 ranked, Pete Carroll coached, USC Trojan team and a 19-7 2010 Holiday Bowl win over the heavily-favored Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Locker was the projected number one pick going into the 2010 NFL draft, but decided to stay at Washington for his senior season.
The decision to stay hurt Locker’s status, as Cam Newton, Von Miller, AJ Green, Julio Jones and Aldon Smith all were drafted before him in 2011.
However, at the eighth pick, Locker was selected by the Tennessee Titans to be their franchise quarterback.
The Titans were the perfect landing spot for Locker, as he had the opportunity to be mentored by another Seattle legend, Matt Hasselbeck, who was Tennessee’s QB at the time.
Offensive Game Plan
This off-season, the Titans have retooled their offensive game plan to play more to Locker’s strengths.
In 2012, his first year as a starter, Locker battled both a shoulder injury and an offense predicated on wide receiver reads rather than QB ability. This led to a train wreck of a season littered with three-and-out drives.
In the off-season since, the team made a dedicated effort to surround Locker with the personnel and game plan to help enable success.
Playing to his talents, the 2013 Titans are going to use a more read-option offense based off a strong running game and stretch receivers, similar to what the Seahawks did with Russell Wilson in his freshman year.
While physically different in size, with Locker having four inches and almost 40 pounds on Wilson, they have eerily similar ‘game.’
Both quarterbacks are tireless workers, commanding leaders, and have the respect of their locker room.
In a league with prima donna egos, having a poised and controlled leader that works hard can not be understated.
As Wilson says, ‘the separation is in the preparation’, and the quote applies to both men. On the field, both can be mobile quarterbacks and excel out side the pocket.
However, unlike a Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, Wilson and Locker would rather use their legs to ‘create’ a downfield play, and only ‘become’ the play once everything else breaks down.
They both also have the ability to make all the NFL required throws, however, Locker has the edge on arm strength and toughness while Wilson has the edge on decision making and short-area accuracy.
The Titans have surrounded Locker in an offense that will first protect him, which then will enable him the opportunity to flourish.
They started by revamping the offensive line, signing free agent guard Andy Levitre while drafting first round guard Chance Warmack and fourth round center Brian Schwenke.
These three will join three-time All Pro tackle, Michael Roos, and second-team All Pro, David Stewart to form a line that will serve as the foundation to everything the team wants to do.
No surprise considering the Titans coach, Mike Munchak, is a Hall of Fame lineman himself.
The idea will be to have an offensive line that can move laterally and hit the second level when needed, while opening interior holes for one cut draws.
The Seahawks did this well, enabling LT Russell Okung to have his most prolific season so far.
To help enhance the new offense, the Titans needed a couple of new weapons on offense.
While RB Chris Johnson can be a dynamic back, he can’t even hold Marshawn Lynch’s jock.
Johnson gets caught in the backfield far too often to be able to sustain drives and doesn’t have the toughness to get the short yards. So, they added free agent RB Shonn Green from the New York Jets to be a mini-Marshawn.
While he won’t match Lynch’s production, he will help sustain drives. With more short, offense-friendly downs, Locker will be more efficient.
Then, when the opportunities present themselves, he can choose when to utilize the deep-speed talents of Johnson, or wide receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and rookie Justin Hunter.
While the Seahawks have the edge in the running game, the Titan’s receivers will be what will enable Locker to put up monster numbers in 2013.
Even with the addition of Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson will have to work harder to put up comparable stats this year.
In the End
After a promising start to his career in 2011 with productive spot-opportunities, Locker had a sub par year in 2012.
However, the Titans recognized the direction the league was going in, and used the Seattle Seahawks as a blueprint for the type of franchise they wanted to be.
The reality is, even with his success, Wilson was brought along slowly last year. Going into 2013, the expectations for the Seahawk’s QB are sky high.
However, Locker is only 4 months older than Wilson and with the philosophical and personnel changes the Titan’s have made, there is no reason he too can’t have a monster year.
The Titan’s may not have the Legion of Boom, but they do have a Washington hero and a deeper pool of offensive skill-position talent.
That may not turn into Super Bowl expectations, but it definitely will turn into a career year for Locker and the Titan’s first playoff game in five years.