Say this about the competition between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker: As a war of words, it’s a real snoozer.
The professionalism, friendship and mutual respect of the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback hopefuls all but guarantee that each is going to say the right thing right up until the decision is made sometime in training camp, and will stick to the script even after that. As each attempts to put his best foot forward, there simply is little chance either will put his foot in his mouth.
In short, it is their performance in practice and preseason games that will speak volumes.
And that is what makes this summer unlike any we have seen in this city’s professional sports history.
Yes, all the way back to the franchise’s early days in Middle Tennessee there have been discussions about who ought to be under center and why. Typically, though, those were conversations based on style and — if we’re being really honest here — to a lesser degree, race.
The Super Bowl season of 1999 included much chatter among the fan base — then-coach Jeff Fisher never wavered, of course — about whether Steve McNair or Neil O’Donnell ought to be the guy. The issue intensified when back surgery sidelined McNair for five games beginning in Week 2, and O’Donnell guided the team to victory in four of those five.
McNair won out and eventually won over pretty much everyone with his toughness, courage and competitiveness. He actually enjoyed several blissful years during which he absolutely was uncontested.
Then came the Vince Young-Kerry Collins era, when the issue — at best — simmered and — at worst — raged seemingly from the start of every training camp to the end of every season without pause.
It never was settled for long, as the loyalty of coaches, players and fans swung back and forth between the utterly unspectacular Collins and game-breaking but locker room-dividing Young.
Owner Bud Adams might have been the only one who was steadfast throughout it all. He backed Young, a hero in their hometown of Houston, but eventually agreed to support management’s decision to cut ties with the 2006 first-round draft pick. That same offseason, given the chance, the team opted not to re-sign Collins.
All of which brings us to now.
Other than age, there is little to differentiate between Hasselbeck and Locker. Each has been with the team for one season. Each came from the Seattle area. Although their styles are a little different, each basically is a classic pocket passer.
Timing worked in Hasselbeck’s favor a year ago. With all pre-training camp activity canceled by the lockout, coaches erred on the side of experience and immediately installed the veteran as the starter. He held that spot all the way through a 9-7 season, but immediately thereafter coach Mike Munchak declared the competition open.
As a result, the preseason games will be much more interesting beyond just the first series or two. Every throw Hasselbeck makes will be measured against each of Locker’s deliveries. Fans who come to training camp workouts will have an area to focus their attention amid all of the activity and sound that comprise those sessions.
Barring injury, it will come down to which one is better, not which one has the skill set better-suited to whatever the situation is at that particular time. It will not be about which choice is right and which is wrong, it will be about which one is best.
Right now, the situation is a common subject in bars and around water coolers. Come August, sports talk radio will be awash in discussion of the candidates and dissection of their daily progress.
Just don’t expect Hasselbeck or Locker to contribute to the conversation.