With Fresh Start Under Ken Whisenhunt, Jake Locker Ready for 2014 Season

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt is widely regarded in the NFL as an offensive guru. 'Quarterback Whisperer' is a nickname often thrown around, although Whisenhunt would never claim it, even though his track record speaks for itself.

As the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Whisenhunt helped groom Ben Roethlisberger into the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl in 2005. He pulled the right strings with Kurt Warner to get him back at a Pro Bowl level as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Most recently as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, Whisenhunt revived the career of Philip Rivers, who posted a passer rating of 105.5 in 2013 after consecutive seasons with a sub-90 rating.

Now the offensive mastermind has teamed up with fourth-year quarterback Jake Locker.

Locker didn't know his new coach on a personal level, but knew the numbers didn't lie.

"You look at his track record and you can't help but be excited," said Locker of his head coach. "He's a guy that makes you want to go out and get better every day."

That quote summarizes what Whisenhunt knew about Locker coming in to Nashville. They'd never met apart from a brief encounter before the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine leading up to Locker's rookie season. Locker found himself on the same flight as Whisenhunt on his way to Indianapolis.

It's the truest of clichés when people say 'you only get one chance at a first impression,' and Locker could serve as the slogan's poster boy.

"We were at baggage claim and I was picking my bags up when Jake came up to me," Whisenhunt reminisced. "He sought me out and spoke to me. They're coached to do that I suppose, but I sensed that it was just the kind of person Jake was. He came up to me and I was very impressed. It made a positive impression on me, so I've always liked that about him. When I came here with the chance to work with him I felt like that was important to me."

As a quarterback, however, Locker remained an unknown for the most part to Whisenhunt. Apart from an evaluation when Locker came out of college, Whisenhunt rarely came across tape of the QB while coaching in a separate conference.

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Whisenhunt finally got to see Locker in action last season when he moved to the AFC's Chargers. The Titans hosted San Diego in Week 3, a game in which Locker's last-minute touchdown to Justin Hunter provided the Titans with their most dramatic win of the year.

Locker finished the game completing 23-of-37 passes for 299 yards and the game-winning score.

"This past season when we played – again I was focused on Tennessee's defense – but I was aware that they were having success offensively and that Jake was playing well," said Whisenhunt. "There was a lot of chatter on our sideline about Jake. I know from standing on the field and watching him play, I liked what I saw. I was impressed with how he played in our game. I was naturally predisposed to liking him, but I still didn't really know."

Whisenhunt couldn't wait to change that upon arriving at Saint Thomas Sports Park in January. After talking with general manager Ruston Webster and other Titans staff, it was clear that Locker had earned the respect of everyone in the building.

"It didn't take long to get a feel for how the organization felt about Jake and that's an important part of the evaluation," said Whisenhunt. "How they play on the field is the biggest piece, but then how they interact with their teammates, how they interact with the people in the building, and how they're perceived in that light is all a part of what it takes to be a quarterback.

"Everything I had heard about Jake was very positive," Whisenhunt continued. "I knew that there were a lot of people that held Jake in a high regard. It was clear that Jake had a lot of qualities I was looking for. He is liked by his teammates, he works hard and he has great leadership ability. Then it came down to what he could do on a football field."

The first set of conversations between the two were the "perfunctory" get to know you chats, as Whisenhunt put it. It wasn't until later on when the two began talking football and philosophy when they truly knew what to expect from each other. Whisenhunt had seen enough tape on Locker to have an idea of what he brought to the table.

"When I started watching tape I liked a lot of things that I saw," said Whisenhunt. "I've said a number of times that he exhibited a lot of abilities you want in a quarterback. He has the ability to extend the play, he's got a good arm and he can make all of the throws."

Locker could tell that his new coach was ready to win. That drive for success meant challenging Locker to progress as a quarterback.

"He's a passionate guy. I realized that really quickly," said Locker. "He pushed me to do some things that I hadn't done in the past in terms of being a leader at the line of scrimmage. It was on me to really get comfortable in the new offense."

Locker may have been asked to step outside his comfort zone, but the quarterback showed no hesitation to answer the call. His work ethic help set the tone for the rest of the team.

"The one thing that was most impressive about Jake was his eagerness to want to get involved and throw himself in there," said Whisenhunt. "He took charge of that and it's a quality you love to see. Teammates gravitate to that if they see a guy that's really committed."

The two have worked tirelessly throughout the offseason and training camp to turn Tennessee's offense into the juggernaut it is capable of becoming. Locker has a multitude of diverse weapons at his disposal.

Not many teams have two superstar-in-the-making receivers like the Titans possess in Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. Wright is an expert at finding soft spots in a defense and then making guys miss once he gets the ball, while Hunter provides the Titans with a true downfield burner and elite red zone target.

Throw in veteran receiver Nate Washington, do-it-all playmakerDexter McCluster, tight end Delanie Walker, and running backs Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey, and you find yourself looking at an offense with unlimited potential.

"We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," said Locker. "I'm excited. I think we've done a great job improving on the mistakes we've made throughout preseason. That's encouraging and exciting. As a unit we're really coming together."

Tennessee's four preseason games brought no reason to temper expectations of the Titans' offense. Justin Hunter finished second in the league in receiving yards with 217, showcasing his ability to catch the fade in the back of the end zone as well as run away from a defense as he did on a 64-yard preseason score at New Orleans.

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Nate Washington posted 94 yards receiving against the Falcons, including a 64-yard touchdown when he showed he could still get vertical a decade into the league. Bishop Sankey displayed his ability to break tackles and find holes on his way to 155 rushing yards, 41 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Most importantly, Locker is 100 percent healthy and ready to take the reins of the offense this season. It showed in his preseason numbers, too. Locker completed 70 percent of his passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

"I feel really comfortable," Locker said. "I really understand what we're doing offensively and have ownership of it. I thank the coaching staff for pushing me early on to do those things I wasn't comfortable with at first. I understand what's going on in this offense more so than any other offense I've ever been in and I'm thankful for that."

Whisenhunt agrees with his quarterback's evaluation of training camp.

"I've been very pleased with how he's worked at it," said Whisenhunt said. "Jake has had a great preseason and you see that in his 70-percent completion rate. We know there will be some stretches where it might not be that, but just from what he's shown so far we're very excited about it."

Of the laundry list of top-flight quarterbacks that Whisenhunt has groomed during his NFL coaching career, he has shown no doubts that Locker is the next in line.

"I've worked with a number of different quarterbacks and they all do different things, but the one thing that's consistent with all of them is that they're intense competitors and want to win," said Whisenhunt. "I see all of those qualities in Jake."

For Locker, his confidence comes in the promises of a new season which is an excitement that never fades.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's an awesome time of the year and I can't wait to get out there and play," said Locker. "It's NFL football, man. It's something that if you can't get up for it you shouldn't be in there."

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