It was understood the moment Jake Locker was named the starting quarterback that there would be growing pains.
As it turned out, that was just the start of it.
In addition to the figurative lumps Locker took along the way, the Tennessee Titans endured the actual pain of injuries, not to mention the pain of separation and — above all else — the agony of defeat. In each case, the hurt exceeded expectations and turned the 2012 season into one with the potential to sting for quite some time.
“You’re going to have injuries,” coach Mike Munchak said. “It’s just unfortunately we had a few too many in the same position, especially [on the offensive line], that have hurt us. … When you’re adding a new quarterback and then you’re adding all these injuries, it’s hard to get anything in sync. It makes it harder, obviously not impossible.”
Among those who ended up on injured reserve or missed a significant number of games to injury were middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, defensive end Dave Ball and return specialist Marc Mariani as well as four of the five projected starting offensive linemen.
“I’ve coached the offensive line for 15 years, and I’ve never been through what [offensive line coach] Bruce [Matthews] has been through with trying to figure out who is playing week to week, and … then all the adjustments that come with that to try to do something that guys can do well,” Munchak said. “… A year ago, we had very few [injuries]. This year, we had, obviously, a lot more.”
It did not help that Locker was one of the first ones to end up on the injury report.
The right-handed quarterback played through an injury to his left shoulder sustained in the season-opening loss to New England but injured the same joint more severely early in a Week 4 loss at Houston. He missed the next five games.
His return to the lineup was memorable in that the Titans defeated the Miami Dolphins 37-3. However, he completed just nine of 21 passes in that contest and set a tone for what was to come.
In short, there were times in the latter part of the season when it was, well, painful to watch Locker play.
He did outperform Mark Sanchez in a Monday Night Football victory over the New York Jets in that he did not commit a turnover. A week earlier, though, he was responsible for five giveaways (three interceptions, two fumbles) against the Texans, the second game after offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired and replaced by Dowell Loggains.
Regardless of who called the plays, only once in his 11 starts did Locker complete more than 50 percent of his passes in consecutive contests. He entered the final game of the season with more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10).
“If you’re adding a quarterback and you already have your other 10 pieces of the puzzle like some other teams maybe have, and you don’t have all the injuries besides having a new quarterback, it’s a lot easier to transition,” Munchak said. “It’s been a very bumpy ride, I think, because of all of the factors.”