Jake Locker is ahead of schedule in his rehab from surgery on his right foot, and the Tennessee quarterback expects to be taking part in the Titans' on-field work in May.
That's exactly what the Titans and new coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted to hear as they started their offseason program Monday.
Whisenhunt said he needs to see Locker stay healthy and produce this year and become the Titans' quarterback for the future. Locker has missed 14 of his 32 starts and is only under contract for 2014. The Titans are not expected to pick up an option worth $13 million in May for the 2015 season.
"Even in our meeting today, I think you could see the respect the team has for Jake," Whisenhunt said. "I like what I've seen on tape. He's exhibited qualities that I think are important at the position, but he's got to do it in this offense. That's what the spring, the OTAs and training camp practices are all about."
Locker's return to health is something the Titans are counting on heavily after an offseason filled with change under new president Tommy Smith, who took over after his father-in-law Bud Adams died in October. Not only do the Titans have a new coach, which is why they started their offseason program two weeks earlier than most teams, but they cut veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and brought in Charlie Whitehurst to back up Locker.
It's up to Locker to learn Whisenhunt's new offense, the third system the quarterback will have to learn going into his fourth season. In addition, an offense largely built around the rushing of Chris Johnson the past six seasons is going in a completely different direction as the running back's release became official Monday.
"He was a guy that gave a lot to this team, to this organization and to this city. I wish him the best wherever he ends up. He was a dynamic player, who provided a lot of offense for us in a lot of different ways," Locker said. "So we're going to have to work together as a football team to replace the production we got out of him."
Locker also understands what the Titans expect from him and isn't worried about his contract status.
"This league is so much now of what have you done for me lately," Locker said. "If you don't have that approach going into every season, it's not going to work out the way you want it to. You're always competing for your job, and that's how I've always gone about it."
More of the offense could revolve around Locker and the passing game, especially with Johnson gone and the Titans planning to use a handful of running backs.
First, Locker has to get on the field. He played in just seven games in 2013, missing the final seven games of the year when a Lisfranc injury to his foot that required surgery and four months in a walking boot. He said his foot has responded well to all the treatment with his rehab increasing weekly. He said he has been able to jump back and forth and lunge using his foot without pain. He also is throwing already, though he hasn't dropped back to pass yet.
"We've been able to do some things the last couple of weeks that we didn't think we'd be able to this quick, and hopefully, we'll be able to continue that kind of trend," Locker said. "It could be even earlier than what we think."
The Titans certainly hope so.
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