The Tennessee Titans are off to their worst start since losing the first six games of 2009, and coach Ken Whisenhunt still is waiting to see if his starting quarterback Jake Locker can return from a bruised thumb.
Backup Charlie Whitehurst has started three of the past four games — winning only one.
Fans already are calling to see rookie Zach Mettenberger, eager for some hint of hope for a franchise that has missed the playoffs the past five seasons and mired in a 2-5 start.
Whisenhunt finally said Monday that they are trying to get Mettenberger, the sixth-round draft pick out of LSU, ready and that the rookie has taken some snaps in practice with the starting offense the past couple weeks with Locker recovering from his right thumb injury.
"We're trying to get him better as we go knowing that with the way it's gone for us at quarterback this year, that's something that could happen at any time," the Titans first-year coach said.
Yet Whisenhunt's focus is on getting Locker back on the field and preparing to host Houston on Sunday. Whisenhunt said Locker will test his injured thumb by throwing Tuesday and the coach and QB are hoping for no setbacks. Locker is the starting quarterback when he's healthy enough to play and the Titans hope that if that's Sunday, he can provide a bit of a spark to a struggling offense.
"It would be good to have more consistency than we've had offensively at times," Whisenhunt said. "We've been able to move the ball with Jake in there."
Locker, who has nine games now remaining on his contract, was having one of his better games when he hurt his thumb against a helmet Oct. 5 in the second quarter. But the fourth-year quarterback has been able to finish only three games this season.
Whisenhunt dodged questions on Locker's future and when the Titans need to see what Mettenberger can do for them. The coach noted the Titans have had three straight games decided at the end that they could have won. They only beat Jacksonville when Sammie Hill blocked a long field goal last week.
"We're going to be a good team," Whisenhunt insisted. "We're getting there. Not as quickly as any of us would like, but we're getting there."
First, the Titans must clean up the penalties and mistakes that keep pushing them backward. They had 11 penalties for 96 yards, and Whisenhunt counted five 10-yard penalties on nine of their possessions in a 19-17 loss at Washington. Only New England has more penalties (75) or penalty yards (590) than the Titans who are tied with the Bills with 74 penalties.
Six of those penalties were on the offensive line with only rookie left tackle Taylor Lewan not drawing a flag. Whisenhunt said they have to cut those penalties out, but injuries that include three starters lost for the season already make in-season changes remote.
"It's not like you have a whole lot of options to replace guys," Whisenhunt said.
The Titans have had only one winning record since 2008, and cornerback Jason McCourty has been around for the past five seasons. Coaches let defensive players at least grade themselves Monday, and McCourty said they could see the handful of plays that could have won the game that must be corrected. He had an interception go through his hands himself.
"At the end of the day, it's a situation that we put ourselves in," McCourty said. "We have to stick together and start trying to dig out of this hole."
Notes: Whisenhunt said LB Shaun Phillips was having an MRI exam on his hip, and LB Quentin Groves hurt an ankle. ... The Titans waived TE Brett Brackett for a second straight Monday.
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