Nick Fairley was still available. So was Blaine Gabbert.
But the Tennessee Titans didn’t sway from their plan of attack when it was their turn to make the eighth selection in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
So, they snagged former University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker, whom Titan officials had eyed all offseason — visiting with him on five occasions.
“I think it was a full consensus,” Titans General Manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “Everybody involved — the scouts, the coaches, the head coach, the general manager — I think it is a guy we liked early, we targeted early and we were ecstatic when he fell to us.”
“As a competitor, you wanted to get drafted as high as possible,” Locker said via a conference call. “I wanted to go as high as I could… I was very happy with how this process went for me.”
With Vince Young presumably headed out the door — the lockout has halted the Titans from trading or releasing the quarterback after they publicly announced the two parties would part ways after the 2010 season — quarterback was obviously a big need for the Titans.
But they also wanted to pad their defensive line and Fairley, a defensive tackle out of Auburn, appeared to be someone who could fit that job description. Fairley was later drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 13th overall pick.
Reinfeldt said the team felt like drafting a defensive lineman in the first round wasn’t a must. They’ll most likely make that selection on the second day of the draft, which starts at 5 p.m. Friday. The Titans have the 39th pick in the second round and the 77th in the third round.
Twelve defensive linemen were taken in the first round, but the Titans remain confident they can find a good one on the second day.
“I think that is part of the equation knowing that you can still get some very capable people in the second round or even the third round that can help on defense,” Reinfeldt said. “It is a deep class, especially at the defensive line.”
Then Gabbert, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback from Missouri, was still around, too. But the Titans were pleased with what they saw firsthand from Locker along with his four-year career with the Huskies. He had 7,639 passing yards and 53 touchdowns, along with 35 interceptions.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said he became “very, very impressed with [Locker] from the first workout.” Plus, Locker’s play-action style might fit in better with running back Chris Johnson and the Titans.
Gabbert played in the spread offense at Missouri.
“Blaine was in the mix of guys that we considered,” Reinfeldt said. “At the end of the day, I think the consensus for us was that Jake made more sense for us, but Blaine is a very talented young man.”
Titans head coach Mike Munchak added: “I don’t really want to compare them — I’m happy with [Locker].”
Locker was one of four quarterbacks drafted in the first round, joining Auburn’s Cam Newton (Carolina, first overall), Christian Ponder of Florida State (Minnesota, 12th) and Gabbert (Jacksonville, 10th).
Locker might not be the only quarterback the Titans acquire this offseason. Reinfeldt said the team still plans to sign a veteran quarterback.
On Thursday, though, the Titans believe they answered one big glaring need. Now, onto the next one.
“There is a certain relief, a certain sense of accomplishment that lets you move on to other needs,” Reinfeldt said. “There is a very good chance there are still a lot of good defensive players up there — defensive line[men] and linebackers. There will be some guys that we are interested in.”