NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Matt Hasselbeck is a little lost in translation right now.
The 12-year veteran has been on the field for the Tennessee Titans just over a week, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer says Hasselbeck is struggling. Not with throwing the ball or handing off, but with the words as he calls plays after spending so much time in one system.
"It's like you speak English all your life, and then drop you off in Spain and say now you've got to speak Spanish," Palmer said. "It's tough. You'll pick it up, but you won't pick it up as quickly as you would. That's normal, and he's doing a good job. Don't think I'm disappointed with him. ... You called it pepper and now you're calling it salt, and it just doesn't register that fast."
Hasselbeck will start Saturday night for Tennessee when Mike Munchak makes his head coaching debut for the Titans against the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason opener where both teams are mirror images. Leslie Frazier is going into his first full season as head coach of the Vikings with Donovan McNabb signed to start giving Christian Ponder time to learn.
In Tennessee, Jake Locker was the eighth pick overall, and he had the head start working with the first-team offense from the beginning of training camp. Hasselbeck has had the lead since Aug. 4, and this start will come less than three weeks after he agreed to a three-year deal with the Titans.
Palmer critiques every play, and Hasselbeck has been busy studying the playbook along with trying to improve on three specific areas each day as assigned by quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. Hasselbeck, who spent the past 10 years in Seattle, said he is much more comfortable after a week of work with center Eugene Amano and the offensive line.
Hasselbeck enjoyed wearing the red, no-contact jersey in practice, but he won't mind hitting the field Saturday night.
"Preseason games are very important. If it wasn't for the preseason games, I would never have had a career in the NFL, so I think it's good," Hasselbeck said.
It hasn't helped Hasselbeck that receiver Kenny Britt has spent the first two weeks being eased back in with a tight right hamstring. Hasselbeck has only worked with Britt during individual passing drills; the receiver expected to rejoin the first-team offense next week.
"That's a little bit frustrating because I haven't had any experience throwing to him or any of these guys really," Hasselbeck said.
Hasselbeck likely will get 10-15 plays, depending on how long that first series goes. Locker will play longer than the veteran. Whether he gets a start this preseason remains to be decided, though both Munchak and Palmer said they haven't discussed that possibility yet.
The 6-foot-3 Locker has had his moments in training camp where he's looked really good, especially when rolling out to his left and throwing on the run. He threw back across his body for a dart to tight end Jared Cook in a night session that impressed Palmer, and he called the sequence perfectly hustling the offense up to the line with the clock running out.
"Munch said the last guy to do that was Neil O'Donnell. That gives you an idea of how well he's comprehending the offense," Palmer said.
But Locker has had moments when his passes have sailed a bit high with the rookie either a bit too excited or pressing too much.
The way Hasselbeck is being paid with a reported $9 million this year, he is the man the Titans want to start and allow Locker time to adjust to the NFL. Locker, who decided to go back to Washington for his senior season even though he was being mentioned as a possible top draft pick overall, is just working hard at learning the playbook himself.
Hasselbeck and Locker have been talking to reporters every few days separately. But it's not that the two aren't getting along. In training camp, all four quarterbacks have been riding together from the team hotel in Rusty Smith's truck.
Locker downplays the thought that he faces any pressure to perform well in his first NFL game, even if it is an exhibition.
"It's the game of football and I've played it since I was a little kid. I enjoy playing the game. You have nerves going into a game, but I don't feel pressure. I believe my expectations for myself are higher than expectations anybody can put on me. "I'm going to go out and do as well as I can," Locker said.
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