Matt Hasselbeck. Jake Locker.
Strange as it might sound, the success or failure of the Tennessee Titans at quarterback in 2011 and beyond depends on those three.
No, the Titans have no plans to pull one of the game’s all-time greats out of the scrap heap. They believe they solidified that position when they drafted Locker eighth overall in April and then signed Hasselbeck as a free agent late last week. They don’t need another player.
It’s what Hasselbeck learned from Favre more than a decade ago that could pay dividends for the Titans now. Drafted in the sixth round in 1998, Hasselbeck spent two years as a backup to Favre in Green Bay and benefited from the time he spent in the presence of the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player.
“It’s a hard thing to describe when you’re talking about a quarterback room,” said ESPN studio analyst Tim Hasselbeck, Matt’s younger brother and a former NFL quarterback. “Brett Favre was never trying to give Matthew ways to take his job, but at the same time Brett was very helpful. So Matthew learned a lot from Brett, and Matthew — to this day — loves Brett and is forever thankful for some of the things Brett did for him.”
Now the Titans want Matt Hasselbeck, who will turn 36 in September, to do some of those same things for Locker, who recently turned 23.
It is an uneasy balance that can be difficult to maintain. Over the past five seasons, Vince Young and Kerry Collins never forged the type of relationship that paid dividends for both. Instead, they often seemed to work against each another.
Steve McNair made no secret of the fact that he felt spurned by veteran Chris Chandler in the first two seasons of his pro career. So he went out of his way during his time as a starter to make those who filled the spots below him on the depth chart feel comfortable.
“I think guys who have experienced what it can be like to be competitive but at the same time being helpful, they realize that’s just a better way to do it on a bunch of different levels,” Tim Hasselbeck said. “One, because the roles can be reversed real quick. Two, at least I believe, everyone plays better when the situation is good. Everyone does.
“Matthew will play better if Jake’s supportive of him, and it’s no different than when Jake gets a chance to play, if Matthew is supportive of him it’ll help Jake play better. I think guys who understand that, everyone will play better, and ultimately the team benefits.”
Of course, only one of them can play at a time. Conventional wisdom suggests it will be Hasselbeck starting on Sept. 11, when the Titans open the season against Jacksonville, but that eventually it will be Locker.
“I told everybody in the organization here throughout this process that my goal was when I do get my opportunity, to be prepared for it and take advantage of it and not let it slip through my hands, because you only get so many at this level,” Locker said a day after being drafted.
That ought to be easier with a helping hand from Hasselbeck.