Tennessee has a lot riding on the improvement of Jake Locker
Titans are convinced they can make Jake Locker a more accurate quarterback
Why Ryan Mallett could be more valuable to the Patriots than previously thought
Quotes of the Week, Stat of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
Many of you have written or tweeted to ask whether I'll be covering more of the labor stuff in this space over the next month or so, while the NFL and its players joust verbally and make their case in a St. Louis courtroom. My answer is simple: I'm going to write about football as much as possible, as long as it is relevant, along with some labor and the other cornucopia of stuff you read here.
I'll write labor when it seems important, and when I think you'll care. I get the feeling it alternately angers and bores you, from the feedback you send me. That said, on Sunday, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com reported he's hearing "initial rumblings'' that if the league loses its appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and is forced to open its doors for business sometime this summer, the owners may completely shut down business operations until the players cave and agree to a labor deal. I reached out to a couple of ownership sources Sunday night; both said this was the first they'd heard of such a plan. We'll see if it grows legs as the month goes on. We're still weeks away from the June 3 St. Louis appeals court hearing that could end or extend the lockout.
For now, there's the residue of one of the most interesting drafts in years to discuss, an email from Mike McGuire, a sports connection to a California pulpit. Thought that might get your interest. I'll get to the Titans' plans to make Jake Locker more efficient, and to the 49th and final (maybe) interview of Book Week with Rex Ryan.
On with the show.
The Titans have a big job with Jake Locker.
If I were Jake Locker, I'd be ready for Accuracyball in training camp. (Assuming NFL teams will have camp this summer, of course.)
I'm thinking back to the three years Chris Palmer -- Tennessee's new offensive coordinator under coach Mike Munchak -- coached Eli Manning with the Giants, 2007 through 2009. When Palmer arrived, Manning had completed three seasons in the NFL. Three inaccurate seasons, with a completion percentage of just 54.0. In camp, Palmer set up flags at different distances and had Manning throw quickly to try to hit the flags. Maybe it was play-calling, maybe it was simple NFL maturations, and maybe a little bit was the flags, but in Palmer's three years with Manning, his completion rate rose from 56.1 in 2007 to 60.3 and 62.3 the following two years.
Locker may be seeing those different-colored flags in his sleep, assuming Palmer pulls them out this summer. Locker never completed more than 58.2 percent of his throws in four college seasons. That's probably the biggest reason so many teams graded him down on their boards. But as I said last week, this was a beauty-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder draft. And Tennessee GM Mike Reinfeldt loved Locker.
"It became evident to us as we did our research that Locker was a special guy,'' Reinfeldt told me. "His production, leadership and football instincts were very high, and we felt he had a chance to be a special player.''
I asked Reinfeldt how a quarterback who was a 54-percent passer in college could be fixed in the NFL. The perception, of course, is that accuracy is usually difficult to improve, particularly when the pass-rush and secondary are better at the next level.
"I think there are things you can do to improve,'' he said. "That's one of the things we studied. Jay Cutler went from 57 in college to 61 [percent completion]. Brett Favre went from 53 to 63; Mark Brunell from 52 to 59. So we think we can improve Jake there.''
A lot of jobs will be riding on the care and NFL education of Locker in Nashville.
Rex Ryan will always feel a little chippy toward the Ravens.
Two good nuggets from my chat with the Jets coach on the release of his book, Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game [Doubleday, with Don Yaeger]:
In the book, Ryan says one of the reasons he thinks he didn't get the Ravens coaching job when Brian Billick was fired after the 2007 season is because Ryan told owner Steve Bisciotti that Billick had lost the team. Ryan says in the book he thought that was a disloyal act. He says many nice things about the Ravens in the book, and has said many of them to me over the years too. But he also said to me Friday: "Coaching in Baltimore 10 years and then not getting the job, that's a thing that drives me. As much as I respect the people in the Ravens' organization, they never thought I could do the job, and that's a major chip on my shoulder.''
Ryan tells an interesting story in the book about pursuing a franchise quarterback once he got the Jets job. The choice came down to USC's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman. "We sent both of them a mini-playbook and asked them to learn what they could from it before they met with us,'' Ryan told me. "They both blew the doors off us when we got them in a room. We'd ask about out formations and bam-bam-bam, they knew it all quick. Both very, very sharp guys.''
But in telling the story in the book, Ryan says one of the factors that swayed the Jets was how Sanchez was regarded by his peers. He said 24 high school and college mates showed up to catch balls for Sanchez. When they'd been to Kansas State to work out Freeman, two of his receivers showed up. "Honestly,'' Ryan told me, "that might have been what separated them -- the immense respect we sensed from the people who played with Mark and knew him so well.''
The Jets traded up from 17 to five in the first round to take Sanchez. Imagine if they hadn't; who'd have taken Sanchez? Oakland, at seven? San Francisco, at 10? Buffalo, at 11 (saving the Aaron Maybin embarrassment)? Washington, at 13?
Baalke balks at the price of doing business.
I want to be sure that two front offices that rarely get much praise -- Cincinnati's and San Francisco's -- get their due in the wake of the draft. And I'm not sure either has been duly credited for not paying the ransom to move up for quarterbacks in the first two rounds.
The Bengals, as we've noted here, have traded up twice in their 44-year draft history. As the second round dawned and Cincinnati sat at pick 35, the Bengals longed for TCU quarterback Andy Dalton and figured he'd slide to them. Maybe it was dumb luck, but whatever it was, the Bengals paid nothing to move up, and Dalton came to them.
The 49ers had pick number 45 and wanted Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. As I wrote in SI this week, San Francisco offered to give New England third-round picks this year and next to move from 45 to 33 to get Kaepernick; New England wanted a two and a three. Too rich for 49er GM Trent Baalke's blood. So Baalke let the pick pass, even though he knew it might cost him Kaepernick, because Oakland was trying to move up for him too. New England ended up making the pick (cornerback Ras-I Dowling), and the 49ers turned their attention to the pick following Cincinnati's --Denver, at 36. Baalke offered fourth- and fifth-round picks this year. Denver accepted. The 49ers got Kaepernick, and instead of paying a two and a three for him, they paid a four and a five.
Moral of the story? There are two. Don't panic for any player, particularly one you're not positive will turn into a cornerstone player for you. And sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make.