From the moment they drafted him eighth overall in 2011, the Tennessee Titans’ plan was to play quarterback Jake Locker as soon as they felt he was ready.
Now that the time has come, they can plan accordingly. Gameplan, that is.
“There’s a reason that we drafted him in the first round — the eighth pick overall,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “We’re excited to get working with him and build the plan around him and what he does well — along with our other players — and hopefully formulate an attack that will be very explosive.”
The Titans announced Monday that Locker would be their starting quarterback for the 2012 season and that he would play into the second half of Thursday’s preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals (7 p.m., LP Field). Over the last two days, his practice time has increased and has come almost exclusively with the first team.
The idea is to focus on what the 24-year-old does well and how his strengths fit in with the other offensive starters.
“You have to be on the field with the player, have hands-on experience with him and then identify what they can do,” Palmer said. “That’s not just for the quarterback. You try to do it with every player.
“… We’ve done a pretty good job of that with our receivers. We have a pretty good idea of what they can and can’t run. We have an idea of what the tight ends can and can’t do. I think we have a better understanding of what Chris [Johnson] can do as far as the run game is concerned. Even the line — how does the line work together? You try to work all those things out in formulating a gameplan.”
Locker played just five games — with no starts — as a rookie. He completed just 51.5 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The plan for each of those games was built around veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who will be Locker’s backup.
Now that Locker is the starter and the gameplans will be tailored to his strengths, the theory is that his numbers will improve accordingly.
“A young guy, you have to understand what he can and can’t handle,” Palmer said. “So that’s a situation you try to work with.”
Working with young quarterbacks is nothing new to Palmer.
He was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns when that franchise was resurrected in 1999 and selected Tim Couch first overall. Couch started 14 games as a rookie and threw more touchdown passes (15) than interceptions (13). The next year, albeit in just seven games, he completed 63.7 percent of his throws.
As offensive coordinator when the Houston Texans entered the league, he worked with 2002 first overall choice David Carr. Through his first three seasons, Carr’s completion percentage improved from 52.5 to 61.2 and after he threw nine touchdowns in each of his first two seasons he threw 16 in his third.
“I think that’s the norm for most quarterbacks,” Palmer said. “As they continue to play they figure it out, the game gets slower and their percentages go up.”
Until then, Palmer and the rest of the organization will keep an eye on other things, particularly between now and the start of the regular season.
“His composure. I want to see how he manages the game. When things don’t go well he doesn’t panic, those type of things,” Palmer said. “… How do you handle pressure? How do your teammates respond to you? All those things are the makeup for a quarterback, we’ll be looking at closely.
“… Every team in this league is good and there’s a process you have to go through. As a quarterback you’re going to have good days and you’re going to have bad days. You want to have more good days than bad. “