For the first time, experience won’t be a significant issue for Jake Locker.
The one team the Tennessee Titans’ quarterback has faced more than any other during his brief time in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints, who come to town for the final preseason game of the year Thursday (6 p.m., WKRN-Ch. 2).
Of course, it is a situation where experience does not necessarily pay dividends.
“Well this won’t be real complicated,” coach Mike Munchak said. “The last preseason game generally is going to be more like the first as far as teams’ gameplans. It’s going to be pretty much, ‘just play some football and see who can make plays.’ It’s probably not going to be a lot of fooling you and disguising you as much as it’s going to be once the season starts or maybe as much as it’s been the last two weeks.”
The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft already proved what he can do in just such a situation — against this exact opponent, no less.
In Week 4 of the preseason a year ago he relieved starter Matt Hasselbeck after one series and played the vast majority of the contest. He completed 15 of 17 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown and during one stretch led the offense to points on five straight drives (two touchdowns, three field goals).
Although he’s now the starter, it’s a performance he’d be happy to repeat. In last Thursday’s victory over Arizona, he directed the team for nine possessions, only one of which resulted in 20 net yards or more.
“We’d like to try to clean up the things we can as a team — sustain some more drives, not go as many three-and-outs and put our defense right back on the field,” Locker said. “… Those are some of the things that we’ll focus on this week and hope to improve on.”
During the regular season Locker appeared in five games and nearly half of his pass attempts were against the Saints, Dec. 11 at LP Field. He came on early in that contest after Hasselbeck was injured and completed just 13 of 29 throws (44.8 percent) but racked up a career-high 282 yards and one touchdown. He nearly drove the team to a game-winning touchdown but was sacked on the final play.
In his four other appearances combined he threw for 260 yards on 37 attempts.
In addition to all that first-hand experience against the Saints, he has gotten a regular refresher course, of sorts, throughout the offseason and the preseason in what they do.
“The thing is this defense is real similar to ours in what they do,” Munchak said. “We see it every day in practice where you think we’d be able to come out and not get fooled and be able to execute pretty well on both sides of the ball.”
Locker’s experience as the starter will be different than Hasselbeck’s a year ago. It will not be one series only for him. He and the rest of the first-team offense likely will stay active until sometime in the second quarter.
“Everybody just realizes they’re going to have to play with him,” Munchak said. “If he plays four series, five series, then everyone is staying with him until we decide to take him out. You hope we come out and put together some nice drives, so maybe that’d be sooner than later.
“We’re definitely thinking more about getting some reps on that side of the ball.”
After all, with the start of the regular season less than two weeks away Locker needs all the experience he can get. Even if it’s the rare sort of thing he already has done.
“It’s your last opportunity to really go out and get ready for the regular season,” Locker said. “So I think your best preparation for that Week 1 is to go out and be really prepared and perform really well in this last preseason game.”