Jake Locker recognized the area code and hoped it wasn’t a wrong number.
The Tennessee Titans were on the other end. Locker, the former University of Washington quarterback, was getting the word that he would be the Titans’ first pick — and the eighth overall — of the 2011 NFL draft on Thursday night.
“I got the call from the Nashville area code and was just hoping that is what it was for,” Locker, who was in his hometown of Ferndale, Wash., said. “I just feel so fortunate to have ended up with them.”
The Titans are glad to have him on board.
Team officials met with the 6-foot-3, 234-pounder five times this offseason leading up to the draft.
Titans first-year coach Mike Munchak was impressed with Locker when he watched film but seeing him in the flesh was a different story.
“Just eyeballing it, seeing how intense he was and I just pictured myself in the huddle with the guy and I thought, ‘Man, these guys will love playing for this guy,’” Munchak said. “I think he’s got something special like that where he’ll bring out the best in other players. I think they’ll want to play hard for him. If it is third-and-six, he’s getting seven. I think he is one of those kind of guys that is going to find a way to win for us.”
First-year offensive coordinator Chris Palmer flew out to a workout with Locker in Washington. In order to improve his footwork, Palmer instructed Locker to see how many times he could successfully jump a rope in 30 seconds. Palmer said Locker’s goal was 100 successful jumps by the time the draft rolled around. A week after they met, Locker was at 80 leaps and has since surpassed the century mark.
“It spoke volumes to what kind of guy he was and the type of responsibility that he takes. I was very, very impressed with him from the first workout,” Palmer said. “I think we have a new culture here at quarterback — a guy who is going to be the first one in here and the last one out.”
After the 2009 season, Locker flirted with leaving Washington early as some projected him as a top five pick in the 2010 draft. But he returned to the Huskies and completed 55.4 percent of his passes for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
In four years, he amassed 7,639 yards and 53 touchdowns – both second in school history. His accuracy, however, has been questioned at times as he threw 35 career interceptions.
“It is something I think all quarterbacks are always looking to improve in and I am no different,” Locker said. “I think that is part of the game when you complete more passes and you become more successful as a passer and you allow your team to have more success. It is something I’ll focus on and continue to focus on the rest of my career.”
Palmer believed some of that inaccuracy stemmed from footwork – hence the jump rope drill – and battling injuries. Still, he didn’t think those factors deterred from other skills Locker brings to the field.
“He is a tremendous, tremendous passer outside of the pocket,” Palmer said. “In my 21 years in the league, I don’t know if I remember a quarterback throwing as well as he does outside of the pocket. I think there are some things that if we can get him to do — the same things outside the pocket that he does within the pocket — I think we’ll be fine.”
Locker, who has already graduated, can report to the Titans after May 16. He is set to be in Nashville on Friday afternoon for an introductory press conference with the media.
The 22-year-old, who will get married in July, has been drafted before – by the Los Angeles of Anaheim. A pitcher and an outfielder in high school, he signed a six-year deal in August of 2009. The deal doesn’t prevent him from playing in the NFL but the Angels own Locker’s rights for the next six years should he switch to baseball.
Locker, however, seems to be focused on one sport and one team right now.
“I am going to do my best,” he said. “I said throughout this process, ‘Whenever I get my opportunity, I am going to make sure I am prepared for it and take advantage of it.’ That is going to be the attitude I approach with this.”