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Titans are Locker's team once he's ready to take charge

NASHVILLE -- Rookie quarterback Jake Locker stood well behind what was the best version of a first-team offense that could be assembled Wednesday during the first day of a two-day minicamp organized by Titans players. He watched Rusty Smith take several snaps before the huddle was turned over to Brett Ratliff. When he wasn't comparing what he saw on the field with his playbook, Locker watched.

He finally got his turn and did OK in his first on-field meet-and-greet with most of his teammates. Locker has spent the past few weeks training with a dozen or so players on the same high school field, but for this gathering there were 48 Titans, plus Ravens wideout Derrick Mason, Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate and Jets wideout Patrick Turner, who all live in Nashville.

Wyche: Notes from Titans "minicamp"

» The Titans' minicamp was organized by CB Cortland Finnegan and QB Rusty Smith. Drills were run by coaches from Father Ryan High School, where the two-day minicamps are being held. Key Titans players not in attendance Wednesday were OT Michael Roos, DE Justin Babin and WR Kenny Britt, who was in a New Jersey courtroom on charges related to a police chase.

» Wide receivers Derrick Mason of the Ravens, Golden Tate of the Seahawks and Patrick Turner of the Jets were in attendance and worked with the Titans. Mason said he did not listen to the play calls in the huddle out of respect to the Titans, who were calling plays out of their playbook.

» Players wore either purple or grey T-shirts bearing a Father Ryan logo. Tate turned his shirt inside-out because he played for Father Ryan's archrival, Pope John Paul II High School.

» Tennessee's first-round draft pick last season, DE Derrick Morgan, who played in just four games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, participated in all drills and said he is on schedule to return in time for training camp.

There was a feeling-out process between the guy drafted No. 8 overall and his new teammates. Some of them are close with soon-to-be-ex-Titans quarterback Vince Young, whose rift with former coach Jeff Fisher played a role in making both part of the history of the organization. Some aren't.

Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson, who is cool with Young, said there is no doubt in his mind that Locker will be the starter from Day 1, citing his draft status as evidence. That wasn't the case with Young, who was taken third overall in 2006 and weaned into action as a rookie.

Locker's introduction into the NFL could be on a similar path due to the fact he hasn't had an offseason to learn the scheme properly because of the lockout.

Tennessee is expected to sign a veteran quarterback -- possibly former starter Kerry Collins -- to keep the seat warm for Locker. Smith could have some say in things, too. He's got the best arm of any quarterback on the roster and has taken over as the offensive leader until Locker earns that right. Smith also knows the system that's not expected to change much under new coach Mike Munchak, a former Titans' assistant.

Of course, everything depends on how quickly Locker learns. When it came to Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and other successful rookie quarterbacks, we spent all offseason hearing that they wouldn't get a shot to start until they were ready. At the same time, everyone close to the action -- especially coaches and players -- knew the rookies were going to open the season under center.

Titans players said Locker has some command of the offense. He set players in the correct spots at the line of scrimmage and expressed a command of the huddle that caught players' attention. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan already coined him the "Face of The Franchise."

It might sound simplistic, but Locker's transition might not be that daunting -- especially compared with the transitions for this year's other rookie quarterbacks -- for two reasons: Johnson and the team's strong offensive line.

Players already are talking about it, and you can be pretty sure coaches are, too. Get it to Johnson right, and left, and on swing passes to the flat, and stay out of harm's way. The offensive line can clear space.

None of the defenses in the AFC South resemble those of the Ravens or Steelers, so going the safe and easy route with Johnson wouldn't be unwise.

The formula worked with Atlanta's Ryan (Michael Turner), New York's Sanchez (Thomas Jones, Shonn Greene), Baltimore's Joe Flacco (Willis McGahee, Ray Rice) and St. Louis's Bradford (Steven Jackson) during their rookie seasons.

None of those quarterbacks had a big-play runner like Johnson and, except for the Jets, a line like the Titans possess.

Locker's understanding of the passing game is the big question. He can run well if he has to, and he will at times. Young did. Collins couldn't.

The Titans, like all teams with new coaches and new quarterbacks, are being hurt by the lockout. It's hard to believe they'll be able to get past the Colts or Texans within the division, especially because quarterback questions aren't the only concern, just the biggest.

First impressions don't mean much until ballgames are won. Locker is on the right track, being humble, respectful and hungry. But he can't play that role for very long.

He's got to seize ownership of the offense shortly into training camp. Johnson and other vets know it's just a matter of time before he's the starter. Locker has to understand players won't wait long to see if he's the real deal and pass judgment.

Until then, Smith is the offensive leader unless Collins is re-signed. Even then, Smith might still curry more favor because Titans players have seen what Collins can and can't do.

That is where the Titans stand and why there was so much talk by veterans about getting Locker up to speed as soon as they can.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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