In today's NFL, most young quarterbacks don't get three years to prove themselves worthy of being long term starters for the team that drafted them early. Gone are the days of giving quarterbacks years to develop. Young quarterbacks are expected to at least show promise and development early – even the “raw” ones like Colin Kaepernick.
For that reason, it's already of a bit of a surprise that Jake Locker isn't under more scrutiny as he enters his third season. Will Locker be able to turn a lack luster debut into a strong second full year as a starter, or will the Titans be looking for a new quarterback in the 2014 Draft?
In the case of many struggling quarterbacks, the problem keeping them from success is obvious. Maybe it's poor arm strength, an inability to read NFL defenses quickly, or just a lack of strong leadership skills that forces their team to look else where.
In the case of Jake Locker, however, it's not quite so apparent. He's got a big arm, his throwing mechanics are almost perfect, and he has all the leadership qualities an NFL team would look for in a quarterback. In spite of all that, he's not been able to consistently throw accurate passes at the NFL level. For most quarterbacks, a problem with accuracy can be fixed by tweaking their mechanics. Unfortunately, for Locker there's simply not much to tweak.
In spite of the accuracy problems, it'd be unfair to label Locker as a bust at this stage of his career. Locker hasn't exactly been dealt a favorable hand when it comes to the circumstances surrounding him thus far. The offensive coordinator position has been unsettled in Nashville, the offensive line and running game hasn't given Locker any help, and their most talented offensive weapon (Kenny Britt) hasn't been able to consistently stay on the field. To add to that, Locker separated his shoulder on play that should have been blown dead early in the season, and he never fully recovered for the remainder of the season.
While it's not time to write off Locker entirely, it is safe to say that the 2013 season should be his last chance. The Titans spent their entire offense putting Locker in a position to succeed, acquiring veterans like OG Andy Levitre and TE Delanie Walker, and drafting young contributors like OG Chance Warmack and WR Justin Hunter. The offensive line now has the potential to be one of the best in the league, and Tennessee's wide receivers group is by far the most talented the franchise has had since they relocated to the state. The team also plans to incorporate plays out of the pistol formation, which should theoretically play to Locker's talents.
So will Locker be able to utilize all of the weapons he now has at his disposal? So far results at training camp have been mixed. Early on, Locker was erratic throwing the ball and even looked like a player who might be pushed by back up quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for playing time. However, as camp has progressed Locker has steadily improved. He's appeared to settle down, and with that he's improved his accuracy and overall performance in camp.
That improvement culminated with a strong showing on a simulated game day at LP Field, where he finished the day going 16-26 with three touchdown passes. He showed strong chemistry with both Britt and Kendall Wright, and appeared to be as comfortable as he's been taking NFL snaps.
The performance was certainly promising but it of course serves as no guarantee that Locker will prove himself to be a franchise quarterback in 2013. But there is finally hope amongst Titans fans now. Will Locker prove that hope to be well founded, or will the fan base become acquainted with yet another first round quarterback in 2014?