Despite injury, Locker on rising learning curve

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comOctober 10, 2013 

RENTON — It’s not a variable factored into the NFL passer ratings, but it’s clearly an attribute of a successful quarterback that Jake Locker has displayed.

Let Mike Munchak, Locker’s coach with the Tennessee Titans, tell you: “He’s a fast healer.”

But not fast enough to satisfy the football fans of Pugetopia who were hoping the former University of Washington star would be on the field Sunday, when the Titans visit the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

Locker was off to the best start of his three-year NFL career, with the third-highest passer rating in the AFC (99.0) when he injured his hip in a game against the New York Jets on Sept. 29.

“He’s doing well; his spirits are great,” Munchak said. “I mean, this kid, you can’t keep him down. And I think that’s why we knew he was going to be successful.”

Locker suffered a dislocated

shoulder last year but missed only five games.

“He came back a few weeks early off the shoulder injury,” Munchak said.

The Titans (3-2) will start Ryan Fitzpatrick in place of Locker, and it’s a move that is relevant to the game far beyond fans’ nostalgic interests in seeing Locker come home.

Going 3-1 over the first month, the Titans benefited from an obviously improved Locker, who threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions, with a completion percentage of 62.2 – well above any season he had at UW.

“It’s tough,” Locker said in a conference call, adding that he’s still on crutches most of the time. “I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to play there in front of family and friends, so it’s hard.”

The team’s success, he said, has been the product of a new offensive approach. And, personally, having been able to work with the same corps of receivers through the offseason and exhibition season has allowed him to construct a level of confidence and comfort with them.

“I think that the attitude and expectations among everybody in the locker room is different,” Locker said. “There’s expectations we’re going to have an opportunity to win every game and we’re going to find ways to win at the end.”

Locker was giving them that chance.

“I felt like he got better every game that he played in, and that was real encouraging to see,” Fitzpatrick said. “As everybody knows, he’s a real hard worker, whether it’s the physical stuff, in the weight room, or working at practice or in the film room. I have been really impressed by his work ethic and it was unfortunate for him to go down.”

The timeline for his return was initially four-to-six weeks, but he said he’s paying no attention to that; just “trying to get back as quick as I can.”

Locker will be in Seattle in time for Saturday afternoon’s Oregon-at-Washington rivalry game, but he wasn’t sure if he’d have a chance to get to revamped Husky Stadium.

“I’m going up there as part of a football team on a business trip, and that’s how I’m going to treat it,” he said. “If I have an opportunity I might try to catch a little of it, but if it interferes with anything we’re doing, then I won’t.”

Locker said he’s still benefiting from having had former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on the Titans’ roster, serving as a mentor and friend the previous two seasons.

“I learned a lot about carrying yourself and conduct and what it means to be a positive role model,” Locker said. “He had a formula that worked for him, and he shared that knowledge as much as he could with me, and I’m thankful for that.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll coached against Locker when Carroll was at USC and Locker was at UW, and noted his improvement when studying video of the Titans’ first four games.

“He’s really playing well,” Carroll said. “His accuracy on all kinds of throws … he’s been very sharp, with no interceptions. You can just see the growth. He’s really commanding their offense, and he looks like a really top-flight quarterback.”

Well, actually, you won’t be able to see those things about him this weekend because he’ll be cheering on his team while on a pair of crutches.

You can watch him after he heals. Supposedly, he’s very fast at it.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks @DaveBoling

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