Chris Palmer is not getting any younger.
The Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator will turn 63 before the 2012 season completes its first month, and his coaching career has just entered its fifth decade. Clearly the end of the road is closer than the start, although he shows no noticeable signs of slowing.
Even with all of that experience, his career is not yet clearly defined.
Thus, the upcoming training camp battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker for the job as the Titans starting quarterback is one that is critical to his legacy. Not as critical as the need to win games, of course, but it presents an interesting subplot nonetheless.
Palmer has not exactly seen and done it all as a football coach, but he probably has come closer than most. That means he has had some notable successes and some undeniable failures.
As recently as 2008, he was quarterbacks coach of the New York Giants when Eli Manning had a breakthrough season and won the first of his two Super Bowls. He also was quarterbacks coach of the New England Patriots in 1996, when Drew Bledsoe took a significant step forward in his career. Plus, his two seasons as offensive coordinator in Jacksonville coincided with some of the best football Mark Brunell ever played.
On the flip side, he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns and offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans when the NFL returned to those respective cities. As such, the failures of Tim Couch and David Carr, both No.1 overall picks who failed to live up to the hype, are associated with him.
Given the consistent mediocrity of the Browns and Texans in the years since Palmer left those teams, it is not exactly fair to lay the blame for their quarterbacks’ shortcomings on Palmer. Hindsight has made it clear that those were franchises ill-equipped to provide their first star players with a real opportunity to succeed.
Still, it was Palmer’s track record with quarterbacks that made him appealing in those situations. So the connection between him and Couch and Carr is impossible to ignore completely. On top of that, it’s not as if the younger Manning was exactly floundering before he and Palmer crossed paths either, but the coach — fairly or unfairly — gets some credit for his development too.
Thus, at this point, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that Palmer is either very good at developing quarterbacks and leading offenses or subpar at it.
Which brings us back to Hasselbeck and Locker.
There’s probably not much for Hasselbeck to learn, mentally or mechanically, at this point. Sure, he put up good numbers last year but much of that had to do with the fact that he stayed healthy, and overall they were not noticeably better than any of his best seasons with Seattle.
Locker, on the other hand, is sort of a blank page. His athleticism, competitiveness and work ethic are impossible to ignore. Then again, so are some of his shortcomings, including a minor mechanical flaw or two in his delivery that sometimes have a dramatic effect on his accuracy.
The Titans are a team that has shown it can protect the passer and more often than not can remain competitive from one year to the next, regardless of changes to the personnel or coaching staff.
It is the perfect opportunity — finally — for Palmer to prove, one way or another, just what he can do. He has a quarterback with the potential to be better on a team that won’t make the process more difficult than it needs to be.
No one doubts Locker will be the quarterback eventually. For Palmer, the sooner the better.