NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Jake Locker finally makes his first NFL start Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he's definitely looking forward to something he expects to be a lot of fun.
The Tennessee Titans just hope he plays well enough to make take the decision on their starting quarterback out of their hands.
"We're running out of time,'' coach Mike Munchak said. "It's funny how we talked about it back in April or May saying, `Well, geez, we've got three or four months,' and now the season's getting close. I think we feel good about it. I think we'll make that decision around next weekend, a couple days after this game.''
Munchak opened the competition in January between Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011 out of Washington, and veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who led Tennessee to an unexpected 9-7 record last season. The Titans have been splitting the work in practice between the quarterbacks, and now it's Locker's turn for a start in the second preseason game.
Locker said the move to give him his start isn't as big a decision as it might seem, and he sees it simply as an extension of the rotation coaches have done from practice to practice and even in series.
"It's great to have the opportunity,'' Locker said.
Locker has been impressive to date coming off the bench. He threw for 542 yards and four touchdowns while running for another score in five games as a rookie, and he was 7 of 13 for 80 yards again following Hasselbeck into the game against a mixture of Seattle's starters and backups in a 27-17 loss last week on the road.
His mobility and leadership are considered his biggest advantages. The sooner the Titans make a decision, then Locker would have more time to become comfortable in the job before the season opener Sept. 9 against New England.
That's why the Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32 rankings) want to see how Locker handles knowing he's the starter for nearly a week along with how he plays against Tampa Bay (1-0, No. 26).
"Even though it's preseason, how he does these next three games will tell us what to do,'' Munchak said.
Locker has supporters who want the Titans to let him learn and grow on the job, letting the quarterback of the future get much-needed experience now.
Hasselbeck was intercepted twice in that preseason opener in Seattle, completing five of nine passes for 45 yards. But Hasselbeck is coming off his 13th NFL season that was one of the best of his career. He threw for 3,571 yards with an 82.4 passer rating along with 18 TDs and 14 interceptions.
Teammates have been staying neutral while the competition plays itself out.
"At the end of the day, I don't think we'll take a step backward with whoever is the starter,'' running back Chris Johnson said.
Hasselbeck recalled his first start in an exhibition against Denver, a start he learned about only when he saw Brett Favre come out during warm-ups and pull up his jersey to show Hasselbeck that he wasn't wearing his rib padding. Hasselbeck said Locker will remember this start for the rest of his life as his first start, and the veteran isn't piling on any advice.
"He's doing a great job, and he's focused and he's got a head coach and an offensive coordinator and a quarterback coach coaching him up,'' Hasselbeck said. "Sometimes you can get too much info. I'm definitely available and a resource and all that. He's getting good coaching.''
The key for the Titans is they know what they already have in Hasselbeck with what Munchak calls a "big track record.'' That's why the coaches want to see more of Locker.
"There are so many things you look into when you're trying to make a decision about a quarterback when it's not an obvious decision, when you have two players you feel you can win with, which is a good problem to have,'' Munchak said. "But again, we still want to let it play out a little bit to where you feel comfortable that you're doing the right thing.''