NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker's surgically repaired foot took another step forward Tuesday, and his Titans teammates followed.
Locker fully participated in team periods of Tennessee's first of 10 organized team activity practices that are scheduled for the next three weeks. It was his first time under center in team sessions since suffering a foot injury Nov. 10 that ended his third pro season and second as the Titans' starting quarterback.
The Titans held their first organized team activity practice of 2014 on Tuesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Donn Jones)
"I felt really good moving around. It's the first time that I've been able to go in team periods, 11 on 11, and it felt comfortable today," said Locker, who added that the progress he made during the offseason program enabled him to return a little ahead of the initial schedule and he hopes to keep it that way.
"It's just kind of managing a little stiffness and soreness, things that I might get from doing it, but barring any big setbacks, I hope to keep moving forward and make it something of the past," Locker said.
Teammates welcomed Locker's return to lead them through the offensive system under new coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Jason Michael against new defensive coordinator Ray Horton's scheme.
"It's always good to see your starting quarterback out there running the offense for us, especially in team and 7 on 7, but it didn't surprise me," tight end Delanie Walker said. "That's Jake. He's a fighter. He's going to be out there, he's going to compete, and he's a leader and that shows leadership, so it is good to have Jake out there throwing the ball to us just to get the timing down."
Veteran tackle Michael Roos said Locker had been participating in running and conditioning drills during Tennessee's offseason program that opened April 7 and advanced through multiple stages of intensity and activity, but it was even better to see him in the huddle.
"He's definitely showing his resiliency and his fight," Roos said. "It's his team. He wants to stay here and show everyone in the locker room and building that it's his team and he's going to stay here."
Although Dexter McCluster is new to the Titans, the speedy and versatile running back likes what he's seen from Locker and what his return could mean to the rest of the team.
"It starts with him. He's the leader. You saw a guy that knows what he's doing, that threw the ball well," McCluster said. "That's big-time when you have the starter out there. You have the guy that's going to take that huddle every time, call the plays and be that leader, so having him here is a plus for us.
"It impresses me a lot," McCluster added. "It helps the whole team out. It helps him out, so it's kudos to him for working hard and getting back. He's definitely hungry. He worked hard to get back on the field, and I think he's going to work hard to stay on the field."
Locker was asked why it was important to him to return faster than initially expected and said he considers timelines as general guidelines that aren't equipped to factor in the different rates at which people heal.
"Some people heal faster or slower, whatever it is, and I take pride in that I'm going to do everything I can to exceed people's expectations," Locker said. "That was my goal, to be able to get back out here as soon as I can, because with it being a new offense, a new system, I want to run plays behind center as much as I can before we take our first snap in the season and I want the guys on the team to know that it means something to me. I'm not just taking a break because I can. I'm going to do everything I can to be on the field, and hopefully it helps to create a culture that we're all going to try and work that way."
Locker helped the Titans open 2013 with three wins in four games, but suffered hip and knee sprains in Week 4 that cost him the next two starts. He returned ahead of the projected schedule from those injuries and started the next three games before suffering the Lisfranc injury in Week 10.
"The guy's a freak. I don't know how he heals so well," Schwenke said. "He's got some kind of special genes in him, but it's good to see him out there leading the offense and figuring everything out."
Whisenhunt credited Locker for the hard work he's put in with the training staff to return for OTAs. Although it was one practice, Whisenhunt said he liked the progress he's seen the QB make.
"A good assessment the first day is how they handle the terminology going into the huddle, and he did a nice job with that," Whisenhunt said. "He's been working at it for a couple of weeks now, but just the way he's been studying and the way he's been working at it, I really like that. There's no substitute for getting the work on the field, and even seeing some of the drills today, you're seeing him make progress with some of his footwork and some of his progressions. I'm excited about that. You know from being around Jake that he's going to continue to push himself, so that's a positive."