I could start this off by discussing how Matt Hasselbeck is old and Jake Locker will be the best thing since sliced bread once he takes over for the aging veteran in training camp, where the Titans are having a heated (well, kind of) quarterback competition. I could say that Hasselbeck made some good throws last season but is still no more than a stop-gap and placeholder for Locker, whom the Titans deemed their future when they went “all-in” on in April of 2011, and they have the ideal offense for him to show off his wicked arm strength.
But I’m not going to do that.
The reason is simple: Hasslbeck was pretty damn good last season. With little running game to speak of for support because of a floundering Chris Johnson and an inconsistent set of blockers, Hasselbeck made throws left and right while keeping the team in games that they, maybe, should not have been in so late into the fourth quarter (such as vs. Houston and Pittsburgh).
The throws should come as little surprise, but he’s long been an unappreciated quarterback by most people who aren’t named Mike Holmgren. He’s a very crafty and savvy passer who is also very smart and has good accuracy.
In recent years, Hasselbeck’s battled injuries that hampered his Sunday performances, but last year was different. He played well and was probably the offense’s most valuable player last season, as my friend Thomas Gower noted at Total Titans earlier this offseason.
It’s hard to argue against Gower, because Hasselbeck did somewhat look like his old self at times. You could tell this by his improvisational skills, which are often on display when he’s throwing the ball with his whip-like motion and pointing in many different angles to move defenders as he did on a touchdown throw against the Denver Broncos last season. He also looks like a vintage Hasselbeck (yes, there’s a vintage Hasselbeck) when he’s fluid in his dropback and sometimes throws high-arching passes that look like they’ve been dropped into a bucket of hands from the man above while he’s leaning back.
Despite his quality play last season, Hasselbeck comes into 2012 looking over his shoulder because Locker is getting closer and closer to cutting into his snaps.
Coming out of the University of Washington, Locker was far more talented than his teammates, and received little support. When isolating Locker’s play, it was hard to ignore some of the times he was forced to run for his life after being flushed out of the pocket. But it was easy to notice what his strengths and weaknesses were.
He had a very good arm that enabled him to throw passes on a rope and fit them into tight windows. He also had outstanding mobility and intangibles. However, as strong as he threw it, he sometimes threw it too strong, and nearly beheaded his receivers on shorter patterns. The Washington native also needed a lot of work on his feet, and it could have been argued that he wasn’t the most accurate quarterback.
Interestingly enough, Locker got on the field last season to fill in for of an injured Hasselbeck, and he looked good. He threw his most pass attempts (29) against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, and although he only completed 44 percent of his passes, he was still impressive. He made some quality throws that flashed the ability the Titans brass likely saw in him when they took him eighth overall, and it appeared that his footwork improved.
Late in the fourth quarter on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington, Locker took a three-step (one big step, two small) drop from shotgun set and then climbed the pocket with two hitches. The hitch steps were not only used for timing purposes, but also to balance himself after the dropback. As he took the hitch steps, he brought his feet closer and kept his eyes down the field, which proved to be vital. If he hadn’t taken the small steps, he likely would have ended up over-striding and overthrowing his intended target.
This was merely one play, however. Locker will need to show consistency in this department throughout training camp and preseason games to earn the starting job. Once his footwork is cleaned up other areas of his game will be as well, and we’ll find out just how good of a player he really is.
Locker will have a tough battle, though, because Hasselbeck won’t go away easily. Hasselbeck can provide consistent play and keep the Titans in a game by minimizing mistakes and making big throws, which are both key assests until Locker gains consistency.
After all, he is a stop-gap.