Jake Locker entering key season for Tennessee Titans


A strong argument can be made that the 2013 season of Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker is more crucial to his franchise's long-term success than that of any young player in the NFL.

Locker might get a pass for playing last year through a season-long injury without the support of a consistent running game or a strong offensive line. But it's still disconcerting that he showed no improvement over his rookie season in terms of pocket mechanics. We knew Locker was a major project entering the league as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and that remains the case after 16 games and 11 starts over two seasons.

Although he's an upper echelon athlete, Locker has been too frenetic, undisciplined and impatient in the pocket with footwork that is among the league's sloppiest. At his most effective on rollouts, Locker simply is not a natural pocket passer. He's a sandlot playmaker, performing best as an improvisational act.

Fortunately for Locker, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is expected to install a system similar to Gary Kubiak's Houston Texans offense, one that combines zone blocking with play-action and designed rollouts and bootlegs. It's the ideal scheme to emphasize Locker's strengths while hiding his weaknesses, the latter of which include anticipation and reading progressions. The Titans' offense will be one of the most fascinating in the league this season.

Locker can be spectacular and tantalizing with his combination of athleticism and arm strength, reminiscent of a young Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger or Rich Gannon, but he must prove that he can refine the fundamental aspects of his game.

Locker will have no excuses now that he's bolstered by a run-heavy attack, an upgraded offensive line, the addition of deep threat Justin Hunter, the return to health of No. 1 receiver Kenny Britt and a potentially game-changing pistol/read-option wrinkle to throw at defensive coordinators.

This is a make-or-break year -- not only for Locker's status as a potential franchise quarterback, but also for the Nashville futures of Britt and running back Chris Johnson.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.