Locker's Improved Health Encourages Titans


NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Jake Locker's return from the sideline to the huddle is likely to come full circle Sunday, unless the second-year quarterback encounters a setback, Titans coach Mike Munchak said Wednesday.

"I think he's ready to go," Munchak said. "It's just a matter of now getting through practice and seeing how it goes for him. Physically I think he's as healthy as he's going to be, I think, until he starts playing. He had a good day of practice today, and we'll see how it goes the next couple of days."

Locker, whose left, non-throwing shoulder was first separated in the season-opener and reinjured on Sept. 30 at Houston, practiced fully and took the first snaps in drills and the brunt of first-team reps as Tennessee (3-6) prepares to visit Miami (4-4).

Munchak and Titans players complimented Matt Hasselbeck for the job he's done in making the past five starts since Locker went down early against Houston. Hasselbeck led game-winning drives against Pittsburgh and at Buffalo, but the Titans have lost two games in a row.

Locker's return is somewhat metaphorical for a team that is determined to fix the damage it suffered the past two weeks with a 19-13 overtime loss to the Colts and a 51-20 defeat by the Bears.

"I think it's just good when everyone sees their guys getting back," Munchak said. "A guy gets back from being injured, whether on offense, defense or special teams, it's just good to see the guy back out there. Then you're rallying around him hoping that he can play, and play well."

Munchak said doctors concluded from an MRI on Monday that "waiting another week or two weeks or three weeks isn't going to make a difference as far as how he feels."

Locker said he appreciated the way that the coaching and medical staffs have cautiously worked him back in the mix, even though the competitor in him hated to be sidelined for so long.

"I think everybody that's injured just wants to get back out there, and so I'm obviously excited about the opportunity to move forward and get to do a little more," Locker said. "It's a lot better than standing around, watching, that's for sure."

Hasselbeck said Locker "has been working really hard," and said the mindset of the entire team is completely focused on beating the Dolphins before going on the Titans' bye week, then building momentum to finish the season strong.

Tennessee's opponents through nine games have the second-highest winning percentage in the NFL (.616) with a combined record of 45-28. Its final seven opponents are a combined 27-30 (.474).

Locker said he thinks he was able to stay in shape and sharp during the downtime.

"I was able to throw for most of it, so just kind of making sure you're in the mental grind of it, too," Locker said. "I tried to do that as well as I could and prepared as if I was playing and tried to help Matt anyway that I could. There were things that I tried not to get lackadaisical on, so if the opportunity came, I didn't have to adjust to that."

Titans receiver Kendall Wright, who leads Tennessee and NFL rookies with 42 catches, said it was encouraging to see Locker make progress.

"It was nice to see him back out there instead of the training room, so I was glad to see him back out there, healthy, and throwing again," Wright said. "It's just exciting to see him work through his shoulder injury and just to work hard to get back healthy and get back out here to help us win football games.

Nate Washington, who leads the Titans with four touchdowns, said the chemistry between Locker and the receivers should return quickly.

"We just have to make sure we're doing our part as individuals and making sure we're accountable for what we do," Washington added.

LUTUI NAMED A STARTER: Munchak said Deuce Lutui will make his second consecutive start at right guard Sunday. Lutui, a seven-year veteran who signed with the Titans in September, saw his first action of the season against Chicago in place of Leroy Harris, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday.

"He did a nice, solid job for us, and now Kevin (Matthews) can still be the swing guy without having to put Kevin in there and have him do a double move during the game and not have a chance to get reps," Munchak said. "So for the o-line, the best way to do it was this way, and Deuce has a lot of experience and he brings a little energy, too. You hate to see a guy get hurt, but he's a guy that has a lot of energy and he brings a different dimension to the game."

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