There is no magic number for games played before an NFL player officially is experienced.
The most common school of thought is that it takes one season to get that distinction. Of course, it depends on whether the player is a starter or a specialist, particular game situations and the types of individual matchups he faces.
Experience was considered the only significant knock on quarterback Jake Locker when the Tennessee Titans opened training camp.
When he ultimately was named the starter he became the last of the top five quarterbacks selected in 2011 to be put in control of his team’s offense. Cam Newton of Carolina and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton opened last season as starters, and Blaine Gabbert, of Jacksonville, got the nod in Week 2. The other member of that group, Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, started last season’s final 10 games.
With the Titans and Vikings set to square off this week, the value of the Titans’ patience with Locker, and the value of Ponder’s 10 additional games of starting experience, come into question.
Ponder has a better quarterback rating (97.7) than Locker (90.2), a better completion percentage (68.3 versus 63.2) and is the only starting quarterback in the league who has yet to throw an interception this season. Most importantly, Ponder and the Vikings are 3-1 while Locker and the Titans are 1-3.
However, the first showdown between Locker and a fellow member of the 2011 quarterback class might not materialize because of his second shoulder injury of the season. Locker is questionable at best after he separated his left (non-throwing) shoulder Sunday at Houston just as he did in the season opener against New England.
If Locker has to miss several weeks while he gets healthy, it only adds to his experience deficit.
“You saw how he played in the Detroit game [in Week 3] and was able to do a lot of things for us,” coach Mike Munchak said. “That’s how we saw him going forward, so I know it was disappointing for him to have this because there’s no doubt it affected him in the second game after it happened in the Patriot game. … I was excited to see what he was going to do against [Houston[ on the road. It was disappointing that he wasn’t able to play this football game.”
A look at other notable numbers in regard to Sunday’s game between the Titans and the Vikings:
2 – consecutive road losses by the Titans, a first under Munchak. Tennessee opened the 2011 season with a 16-14 loss at Jacksonville, won its next road game (at Cleveland) and continued loss-win throughout the rest of the year. The first road game of 2012, of course, was a loss at San Diego and the next was Sunday’s defeat at Houston.
3 – special teams returns for touchdowns by the Vikings since the start of 2011. They have taken back two kickoffs and one punt for scores, including one each last week in a victory over Detroit. Only two teams have more kickoff/punt return touchdowns over that span.
4 – special teams returns for touchdowns by the Titans since the start of 2011. They have taken back two kickoffs and two punts for scores, including one each two weeks ago in a victory over Detroit. Only Arizona (two kickoff returns, two punt returns) has as many over the same span.
26.7 – yards per kickoff return, The Titans’ average since the start of 211. That’s the NFL’s third’-best average over those 20 games.
27.6 – yards per kickoff return, the Vikings’ average since the start of 2011. That is the NFL’s second-best average over those 20 games.
38 – points allowed by the Titans in each of their two rod games this season. They lost 38-10 at San Diego and 38-14 at Houston … so at least the offense is trending upward. Coincidentally, they allowed the same number of points in Week 5 of last season, a 38-14 defeat at Pittsburgh.
105 – yards, the distance Darius Reynaud went when he scored a touchdown on a kickoff return two weeks ago against Detroit. Minnesota’s Percy Harvin took one back the same distance against the same opponent last week.