NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Titans coaches spent nearly all of last week self-scouting during their bye they wanted more film of Jake Locker than they had.
The coaches, however, were encouraged with multiple aspects of his performance at Miami in his first game action since Sept. 30.
Locker turned a pair of plays that appeared determined to have negative results into positives on Tennessee's second touchdown drive that gave the Titans a 14-0 lead with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
Locker tripped and fell as he faked a handoff to Chris Johnson, but sprung to his feet and turned what would have been a significant loss into a 20-yard run on the first play of the possession. Locker was able to joke "that's how we designed it" this week.
"I fell down and I didn't feel like there was anybody right in my vicinity," he explained. "It was a pass play so we had protection up front, so I got up and basically tried not to make it a negative play. I was just trying to get back to the line of scrimmage and put it behind us, see if we could convert on the next down, but I was able to find a crease and they kind of manned-up downfield with the receivers and gave me a running lane and an opportunity to turn it into a positive play."
Titans coach Mike Munchak said the play was a reminder of "the things he can do that you forget about when he hasn't played in a while."
"Most quarterbacks, that's second-and-20 right there," Munchak added. "They don't get up or they get up and can't get out of there like that or something even worse happens and they fumble it."
Four plays later, Tennessee opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Miami 37. Locker shed the grasp of a blitzing defender and scrambled for a gain of five yards. He followed that play with a 15-yard completion to Damian Williams, and Johnson capped the possession with an amazing 17-yard touchdown run.
"He made a lot of plays that he easily could not have made that changed that game dramatically," Munchak said. "We may not have gotten that big lead that we did and kind of took over the game and changed the momentum, especially that fourth-and-2 play. That was a huge play that really changed the game there. It was 7-nothing there, and because of the fact that he converted a play where they had the advantage into an advantage for us, and then we finish it with a touchdown two plays later with CJ, all of a sudden, it's 14-nothing, instead of 7-7 or 7-3, and that's the stuff that people don't really factor in, but you realize that's where he makes a huge difference in football games."
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said Thursday that receivers coach Dave Ragone, a former NFL quarterback, jokes with offensive line coach Bruce Matthews that those plays are examples of the "quarterback premium."
"You know, Coach Matthews is a little upset that quarterbacks get so much money and he's a Hall of Famer, but Coach Ragone will say that's the quarterback premium," Palmer said. "We drafted Jake because of his athleticism, that's one of the things that we liked, and quarterbacks like that make plays like that."
Locker said his left, non-throwing shoulder feels as good as it did when he received medical clearance to return to action with no restrictions to his style of play. He said the scrambles are not something he's looking to do, but he won't shy away from such opportunities.
"I understand that that's one of my strengths, and it's something that they have to account for, and if they're not going to, then you hope to try and hurt them a little bit," Locker said.
The Titans obviously didn't want Locker to suffer the shoulder injury in the season opener or reinjure it at Houston, but Palmer said he's often seen young quarterbacks benefit from playing and then sitting. Munchak and Palmer said they liked Locker's judgment in throwing the ball away multiple times when he didn't have a good option, and Locker agreed that that's an area in which he's developed in his first two seasons.
"I think just understanding where I can get rid of the ball, even if it's out of bounds (is an area of improvement)," Locker said. "I think not trying to force a ball into a window or area where it has a better chance of turning out bad than it does good. I thought that we were able to do a good job with that (against Miami)."
The plays that Locker switched to positives seemed to cast a ripple effect across Tennessee's sideline, and the Titans also benefitted by forcing four Dolphins turnovers. They want more of the same on both sides of the ball in their final six games starting Sunday when they visit Jacksonville.
"I think we were able to create some momentum for ourselves two weeks ago and just play a really crisp football game," Locker said. "It wasn't outstanding by one individual or anything like that. It was a great team effort, and we did what we preach doing offensively, defensively and (on) special teams, and it allowed us to play a really crisp game."