For Jake Locker’s sake, Mike Munchak better be right.
The decision last week by the Tennessee Titans coach to fire offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was not an indictment of Locker, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, and his development. In fact, Munchak said he could not be happier with how Locker has progressed to this point in his career.
Still, nothing can stifle a young quarterback quite like instability with the offensive coordinator.
So Palmer’s replacement, Dowell Loggains, needs to do the job well enough over the final month of this season that he keeps momentum going. That is not something Munchak could guarantee, particularly since the 32-year-old Loggains never had called a game at any level of football, and that the Titans have had a generally miserable season overall.
Given that Locker was the only one of the first five quarterbacks drafted last season who did not start a game as a rookie and that another bumper rookie crop this season led by first overall pick Andrew Luck has gotten off to a fast start, the Titans can’t afford any further delay in turning their quarterback of the future into a quarterback who can win games, now and for a long time to come. Recent history proves as much.
Alex Smith has gone through six offensive coordinators in eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and generally has been considered a bust. The first overall pick in 2005 seemed to finally get past all of that last season when he started every contest and led his team to the NFC Championship game.
Suddenly, though, Smith is on the bench again. The job now belongs to Colin Kaepernick, the latest member of the 2011 draft class who seized an opportunity once it came his way.
Matt Cassel went through five coordinators in five seasons, the last four with Kansas City. He got the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010 but has gone 5-12 over the last two seasons and lost his job to Brady Quinn earlier this season.
Jason Campbell had four different coordinators during his four college seasons at Auburn, and five in his first six NFL seasons. He was a starter for three seasons with Washington and one with Oakland but has a losing record (31-40) and never has been to the playoffs. Currently, he’s a backup in Chicago.
None of those guys need to be working on their Hall of Fame speeches anytime soon.
Now compare Locker to the other top quarterbacks selected a year ago. Cam Newton has struggled this year but was the 2011 offensive rookie of the year and still has all the makings of a transformational talent. Andy Dalton already has taken the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs once and has a chance to make it two-for-two this season. Christian Ponder, with a notable assist from running back Adrian Peterson, has the Minnesota Vikings in the heat of the playoff chase this fall.
The only member of that group who has noticeably struggled — and possibly regressed — is Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars, of course, fired coach Jack Del Rio and his entire staff after last season. Thus, Gabbert’s rookie season effectively was a waste.
That can’t happen with Locker and the Titans.
Memories of their inability to develop Vince Young are still fresh, and in some ways they continue to pay the price for that failure.
Keep in mind, of course, that Young got off to a good start. He was offensive rookie of the year in 2006 and helped the team reach the playoffs in 2007. After that, things turned sour. Young was released following the 2010 season, and Locker arrived as a do-over.
Maybe it’s a coincidence that his career went south after Jeff Fisher changed offensive coordinators following the 2007 season. Then again, maybe not.