Tennessee: Fixing Jake.
Completion percentages, by season, in Jake Locker’s college (University of Washington) and NFL (Tennessee) career:
Average completion percentage across the NFL last year: .612. In six college and pro seasons, Locker has never reached that number.
“His stats are what he is,’’ said new coach Ken Whisenhunt. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t change.”
Whisenhunt has participated in the career upturns of Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers. In his office one recent day before practice, he got up from his chair and demonstrated one of the off-season lessons for Locker: widening his stance before throwing, and shortening his stride. “Jake was here,’’ Whisenhunt said, with his feet close together, “and when he threw with that long stride, I think it caused him to overthrow. I don’t want that giant stride. He’s fixed that … We’ve asked him to do a lot out of his comfort zone this offseason, and he has responded well. When he works hard and pays attention to his in-the-pocket mechanics, they’re really good. And that has a lot to do with your accuracy.’’
“Do you think Jake’s your quarterback of the future?” I said.
“I hope so,’’ Whisenhunt said. “I feel good about what I see out here [in practice]. But you’re not getting hit out here either. The question is, can you do all the right things when you’re about to get hit?”
I saw the Titans scrimmage inside their stadium when I was in Nashville, and Locker’s improvement showed some—but as Whisenhunt pointed out, the quarterbacks wore the red don’t-hit-me jerseys. He hit two nice out routes to Nate Washington, and a longer seam throw to Washington up the left side. Two zits: At the line of scrimmage before one snap, safety Bernard Pollard yelled out to corner Jason McCourty, “Watch the double move!!” Immediately, Locker straightened up and called time. Not good. He’s got to process information quicker—defenders are going to be doing things like that every play during the season. And in the red zone, he threw a pass that was picked by linebacker Wesley Woodyard at the goal line, an awful throw that looked like it was intended for Woodyard. He completed six of seven on the drive, but that seventh throw, in a game, would have been a dagger.
Make no mistake: This is a proving year for Locker. He’s got this year, his fourth in Tennessee, to convince Whisenhunt and GM Ruston Webster he’s the quarterback for the long haul. He’s going to have to stay healthy—injuries have curtailed both of his last two seasons—and show Whisenhunt that he can move the chains with accuracy and intelligence. “I have tremendous confidence in what we’re doing, and I think if you throw the ball with conviction you’re going to be a more accurate thrower,’’ Locker said.
Whisenhunt, who was hired to replace Mike Munchak in January, inherited Locker. Over the next five months Locker will show the Titans whether they’ll need to be in the 2015 quarterback market. His history shows it’s going to be a tough task, but certainly not impossible. He’s a mobile player and good leader, and if he takes coaching well, he’s got a chance to stay.
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Kansas City: You had to see this to believe it.
Moment of the week on The MMQB Training Camp Tour, Thursday night, as The MMQB team stood on the sideline late in the fourth quarter of Bengals-Chiefs:
The Kansas City quarterbacks witness Bengals quarterback Matt Scott puke through his facemask. Taking a shotgun snap, he pukes again.
“The dude’s projectile-vomiting!” quarterback Tyler Bray said.
Timeout, Cincinnati, Fifty-three seconds left. Scott goes to the sidelines. Look out below! Another stream of vomit. Trainers hover, concerned. Scott wipes his mouth and heads back to the field. Third-and-one. Bengals down 10. Scott, in the shotgun, takes the snap, and fires a line drive to the gut of post-running wideout Conner Vernon, a Chiefs corner draped on him. Touchdown. Good catch. Better throw. Bengals go for two. Scott takes the snap, looks to throw, sees an opening, sprints up the middle. Conversion good.
Who throws up for three times in a few minutes, comes back on the field, makes a perfect throw on the next play, then runs in the two-point conversion?
“I did it before,” said Scott, the former Arizona Wildcat, still energized, walking off the field a little wobbly after the game. “Against USC. I got hit hard, puked, and threw a touchdown pass on the next play. Then they took me out.” Turns out he shouldn’t have been in the game after the hit. He’d been concussed.
I asked him what happened tonight. “Been sick all week,” said Scott, a 2013 undrafted free agent who spent last season on the Jaguars’ practice squad. “Some kind of virus, some sinus thing. I’ve been taking antibiotics. Felt awful all week. But there’s no way I wasn’t playing tonight. No time to be sick.”
In the Kansas City locker room, the quarterbacks couldn’t believe what they’d seen. Much respect to the vomitous Bengal.
“Really impressive,” said Alex Smith. “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
Tyler Bray said: “He projectile-vomited, and he threw a dime. Who does that?”
Fast-forward two days. Tough business, the NFL. Scott is already number four on the Bengals’ QB depth chart, and Cincinnati signed another passer, Tyler Wilson, for camp competition on Saturday.
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It’s a good day when Football Outsiders Almanac comes out.
The usual good job has been done by editor Aaron Schatz and his Football Outsiders crew (Mike Tanier, Doug Farrar, Jason Lisk, Christopher Price, Chase Stuart) on “Football Outsiders Alamanac 2014.’’ Some prime tidbits:
- FO projects college receivers to the NFL with a system called Playmaker Score. In general, the mark of a really good prospect is a Playmaker Score above 80 percent. This year, 13 rookie receivers hit this mark. FO’s database goes back to 1996, and there had never been a season with more than eight such players. FO actually projects Brandin Cooks, not Sammy Watkins, as the top prospect among this year’s wide receivers. (The highest Playmaker Score ever belonged to Randy Moss.)
- The Minnesota Vikings had the worst offense on second-and-short (1-2 yards to go) of any offense in FO’s play-by-play database, going back to 1989. Yes, they did this despite having Adrian Peterson. Yes, this is an indicator of likely improvement in 2014. Yes, it’s particularly an indicator of likely improvement because it’s the kind of problem that a new offensive coordinator would likely attack first.
- My favorite of their stats in this year’s book: Arizona used shotgun formations (including pistol) on 38 percent of offensive plays last season, less than any other team. To show you how much the NFL has changed, that would have LED THE LEAGUE just 10 years ago. (Indianapolis used shotgun on a league-leading 32 percent of plays in 2003.) Philadelphia used shotgun or pistol on 86 percent of its plays last year, the highest rate in NFL history.
- Speaking of Chip Kelly’s influence, the Eagles averaged 6.6 yards after catch, the highest figure since FO started tracking YAC in 2005. Particularly impressive was their average of 12.1 yards after catch on passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage (NFL average: 8.9). However, the Eagles weren’t just about the short pass. They threw 28 percent of their passes deep (at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage). No other offense was above 24 percent.
- Chicago used six offensive linemen on 16 percent of plays last year—no other NFL team was above 10 percent—and they were excellent on these plays. In general, teams pass about one-fourth of the time when using an extra lineman, but the Bears passed on 47 percent of these plays. The Bears averaged 6.2 yards per play; of the 10 teams to use an extra lineman most often, the closest in yards per play was Atlanta at 5.0.
- Andy Reid Self-Parody Department: Pre-Reid, Kansas City ranked first in the league, running on 50 percent of first downs in 2012. That plummeted to 33 percent (30th) last season, Reid’s rookie Chiefs’ year.
- Patriots receivers dropped 38 passes, more than any other team except Detroit. But the Patriots’ defense benefited from 40 opponent drops, more than any defense except Green Bay’s.