Locker learning but not winning like other rookies
(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Andrew Luck and RG3 are winning. Russell Wilson, too - and they're all NFL rookies.
Jake Locker is in his second season, and his 2-5 record as a starter comes nowhere near the success some of this season's young quarterbacks are enjoying.
The Tennessee Titans are not worried.
Coach Mike Munchak says his quarterback takes blame for his mistakes and works hard not to make the same one twice. They love his toughness, and Munchak says he's been around quarterbacks not as willing to accept responsibility when plays go wrong.
"I think our team needs to take a step, it's not necessarily just him,'' Munchak said Wednesday.
Locker, who sat behind Matt Hasselbeck in 2011 as a rookie and missed five games this season due to injury, finally makes the first of what the Titans (4-8) hope are many starts against Luck and the Colts (8-4) on Sunday. He is coming off his worst start yet with five turnovers - two fumbles and three interceptions - along with being sacked six times in a 24-10 loss to Houston.
Watching film of that game wasn't nearly as bad as Locker feared.
"You watch the turnovers, it wasn't guys doing the wrong things. It wasn't going the wrong place with the ball,'' Locker said. "Balls got tipped, and guys made plays. If it doesn't get tipped and gets through, we've got guys wide open to catch passes for us. From that standpoint, it's kind of encouraging almost.''
As a rookie, Locker played in five games coming off the bench in a season when Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder got to start and had success. The Titans named Locker their starter this August, and he wound up missing almost as many games as he's played this season after dislocating his left, non-throwing shoulder twice in the first four games.
Locker returned Nov. 11 and led the Titans to a 37-3 win at Miami. Since then, the eighth pick overall in 2011 out of Washington has struggled with five of his seven interceptions along with seven of the 11 sacks he's taken coming in the past two games - both losses.
Against Houston, he was incomplete on seven straight passes early only to settle down in the second half. The Titans outgained Houston 210-110 in the second half and had chances to make it a game with Locker also using his legs. But he had a 28-yard run to midfield wiped out by a penalty.
Locker ranks second on the team in rushing behind only Chris Johnson, averaging 7.7 yards on 21 rushes for 162 yards. That mobility is a key for Locker, who Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arians said was more natural on the move coming out of school.
"From the pocket is where you thought you were going to have to develop him,'' Arians said. "I think that's still a natural thing for him to get out and make plays, whether it be running or on the run and throwing. He's still learning to develop everything within the pocket and getting to the second, third and fourth guy.''
Locker ranks 17th among AFC quarterbacks in both attempts (212) and completions (120). He's completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 1,473 yards and a 77 passer rating. He has thrown for more than 300 yards twice this season, first in rallying the Titans to an overtime win over Detroit on Sept. 23 and in the loss to Houston.
Titans receiver Nate Washington said Locker is everything they expected and are satisfied with what he's giving them.
"With all the hype that's been coming in with young quarterbacks, I think people aren't touching on there's still more to learn,'' Washington said. "Everybody who comes in this league, there's more to learn about this game so that's going to happen with everybody. He's doing what we're asking of him. Could he be doing better? Yeah. But he could be doing a lot worse.''
Locker also has his teammates' respect. After Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins intercepted a tipped pass, Locker tackled him, knocking him up into the air for his second tackle this season. Locker later stood up for center Fernando Velasco after what the Titans called a "cheap shot'' from Houston defensive lineman Antonio Smith late in the game.
"That's why we love Jake,'' Velasco said. "Jake's a great guy. He's a warrior. He's a fighter. He's got a lot of heart. I appreciate him going to bat for me.''
Notes: LT Michael Roos did not practice with a sore right knee. Munchak said he went through the walk-through portion and could practice Friday. The Titans placed LG Steve Hutchinson on injured reserve Wednesday after claiming G Mitch Petrus off waivers from New England. ... LB Colin McCarthy (concussion) returned to practice after missing the Houston game. ... WR Damian Williams (hamstring) did not practice and likely will miss Sunday's game. DE Kamerion Wimbley (toe) did not practice.
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