Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck knows only too well how quickly a starting job can be lost. He is the player the Titans tried to replace with Peyton Manning in March.
Hasselbeck also likes to compete.
Good thing, since the Titans kicked their quarterback battle into a new gear with their first on-field training activities last week. The Titans are letting Hasselbeck, who quarterbacked the Seattle Seahawks from 2001-10, and Jake Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011 out of Washington, compete to be the starting quarterback this season. The veteran got the ball first in team drills last week, and Hasselbeck said he’s approaching this year as he does every year.
“The advice I give to guys over the years is you’re not really competing with the guys at your position,” Hasselbeck said last week. “It’s probably a faulty view of things. At this level, you’re competing with everyone in the world they could find to replace you with whether they’re here yet or not, and you know I almost learned that lesson the hard way this offseason. That’s just reality.”
Coach Mike Munchak said that Hasselbeck and Locker will split snaps 50-50 while both will work with as many players as possible, and the Titans are even splitting up the days when each quarterback speaks to reporters. Hasselbeck spoke Friday, and Locker is scheduled to talk Wednesday after the team’s next open session.
And Munchak hopes to know which man he wants as his starter by the Titans’ third exhibition game Aug. 23 against Arizona in Nashville.
It would be easy enough for Hasselbeck to take the attitude that this is his job after the season he had in 2011 for Tennessee. Signed just before the start of training camp because of the NFL lockout, Hasselbeck started all 16 games for the first time since 2007 when he was with Seattle. He threw for 3,571 yards with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with a passer rating of 82.4. His yards passing ranked fourth-best in franchise history.
He did it after losing his top receiver in the third game when Kenny Britt tore his right ACL and MCL and with Chris Johnson turning in the worst season of his career after missing almost all of the exhibition season in a holdout for a new contract.
That’s not how Hasselbeck acts. He remembers only too well being cut by the Green Bay Packers as a rookie and spending time on a practice squad.
“I really feel like my job is to just be the best quarterback I can be for this team and to be a great teammate and be coachable,” Hasselbeck said.
Locker had his moments too as a rookie, which is why the Titans opened up the competition. Locker came off the bench Dec. 11 against New Orleans and threw for 282 yards, the most yards passing by a rookie for this franchise since Jacky Lee threw for 331 in 1960 against Boston for the then-Houston Oilers in the inaugural season of the AFL.
Locker threw for 542 yards coming off the bench in five games with four touchdowns, and the quarterback known for his ability to run around was sacked only five times while scrambling eight times for 56 yards and a TD.
Teammates are staying neutral, taking Johnson’s tact when he praised both as great quarterbacks.
“I want to go out there and make it easier on them whatever quarterback it is,” Johnson said. “I just know I’ve got to do my job.”
Munchak said everything will be gauged before making a decision, including work in meeting rooms, on the field, adjustments at the line of scrimmage and likely play in an exhibition game where a quarterback can be truly tested under pressure.
“Either way, it’s going to be a good situation for the team,” Munchak said. “It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a tough one, too.”