Line of Scrimmage: Time right for Titans, Dolphins to sink or swim

Matt Hasselbeck couldn't hold a candle to Brett Favre during the now-cagey elder stateman's younger days as a backup to the NFL's most deliberate decision-maker, and there's really not much of a comparison to the situation that the two former Green Bay Packers teammates have experienced in their silver years as a player.

Detractors of Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak's supposedly debatable decision to begin the 2012 season with the green but potential-laden Jake Locker instead of the battle-scarred but declining Hasselbeck at quarterback like to use the example of Aaron Rodgers' slow apprenticeship under a reluctant Favre during the reigning league MVP's first three seasons in Green Bay.

Much like it happened with Hasselbeck some seven years earlier, the Packers' patient approach with Rodgers yielded a top-shelf quarterback able to lead his team (a different one in Hasselbeck's case) to a Super Bowl.

Green Bay's judgement to sit Rodgers in 2007, in essence made by Favre's drawn-out choice to play one more season (at least with the Packers, that is), would reap rewards both for that year and the ones to come. A re-engerized Favre bounced back from two straight mediocre campaigns to lead Green Bay to 13 regular-season wins and a trip to the NFC Championship Game at age 38, while Rodgers would pilot the Pack to a remarkable playoff run culminating with a victory in Super Bowl XLV three years later.

The 2012 Titans don't seem to bear much of a resemblance to the 2007 Packers, however. For one, there's very little to suggest that a late-career renaissance a la Favre is on the horizon for Hasselbeck, who'll turn 37 in September. The follicly challenged three-time Pro Bowl performer's play has receded nearly as much as his barely visible hairline over the past four seasons, in which Hasselbeck has recorded a lackluster 50-to-58 touchdown-to- interception ratio and missed 13 games due to injuries.

Hasselbeck put together a nice rebound in 2011, with the longtime Seattle gunslinger throwing for 3,571 yards and 18 touchdowns while starting all 16 contests in both his and the then-rookie Locker's first seasons in Nashville. While that solid performance may have garnered some NFL Comeback Player of the Year consideration, it still didn't get the Titans into the playoffs.

The truth of the matter is that the Titans aren't a realistic Super Bowl contender as presently comprised, regardless of whether it's Hasselbeck or Locker taking the snaps. That's why octogenarian team owner Bud Adams' unsuccessful sales pitch to the beloved former Tennessee Volunteer Peyton Manning back in the spring wasn't solely based on sentimentality, and why Munchak is making the right move in having the future become now for the organization.

Will Locker face-plant during a brutal four-week opening stretch that contains home dates with defending AFC champ New England and upstart Detroit and road tests at San Diego and AFC South favorite Houston? Quite possibly, especially if the talented youngster's first regular-season starts are as shaky as his first preseason one, when he mustered only 21 yards with an interception on 4- of-11 passing in nearly a half's worth of work Friday at Tampa Bay.

But the Titans aren't necessarily guaranteed a better chance of surviving that apparent rough patch with Hasselbeck's wisdom and veteran savvy than with Locker's clear advantages in arm strength and mobility. And it's not as if Hasselbeck, who was picked off twice in his return to Seattle during Tennessee's preseason opener, has proven himself without question to be the superior option during camp.

So if all other factors are relatively equal, why wouldn't Munchak go with the player the Titans expect to be their franchise face for the next decade instead of one who's nearing the end of the line?

Meanwhile, the first critical call of Joe Philbin's tenure in Miami turned out to be a much more transparent one to make in comparison to Munchak's. What had been touted as a three-man derby for the Dolphins' No. 1 quarterback position that would linger deep into the preseason wound up being not much of race, with fast-rising rookie Ryan Tannehill convincingly beating out favored veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard just halfway through the exhibition schedule.

Tannehill benefited from some luck (Garrard's knee surgery that will sideline the brittle vet for all of the preseason) and an inherent advantage (his college coach, Mike Sherman, is now Miami's offensive coordinator -- not to mention Hasselbeck's former head coach in Green Bay and the one who traded him to Seattle in 2001). The heralded 2012 first-round pick also made the most of his golden opportunity, however, by easily outplaying an erratic Moore over the first two games.

Tannehill's 11-of-23, 100-yard effort during the first half of the Dolphins' 23-17 loss at Carolina on Friday may not have been Marino-esque, but the comfort and decision-making he exhibited in his initial encounter with a first-team NFL defense was quite impressive for one entering the league with just 20 collegiate starts.

And with Miami seemingly still a ways away from truly contending as Philbin -- another with Packers' ties -- becomes the next to be put in charge of the team's latest rebuilding project -- throwing its promising passer right into the fire certainly makes sense after Tannehill proved he belonged against the Panthers.

"I think he's very much acclimated himself to the speed of the game at this point, and I don't think that's an issue," Sherman said afterward.

Incidentally, both Tannehill and Locker are 24, which just happens to be the same age Rodgers was when he finally inherited the Packers' starting job following Favre's drama-filled divorce from the team during the summer of 2008.


Here's the rundown of the New York Jets offense with Mark Sanchez at quarterback in this preseason: Eight drives, six punts, one interception, one stopped on downs, 103 total yards in 41 plays and zero points. No wonder why Rex Ryan's been uncharacteristically quiet over the past few weeks, and why the Jets aren't allowing the media to divulge any "secrets" about the Tim Tebow- driven Wildcat formation. It may be the team's best (and only) way to move the football.

Though neither injury turned out to be serious, witnessing Michael Vick get hurt twice in 12 plays over the Eagles' two preseason outings has to be pretty nerve-wracking for Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid, no matter how good rookie Nick Foles has looked against second-stringers. It's hard to understand just why the general public views the Eagles as the favorites in the NFC East with Vick such a perpetually brittle player, especially when there's another quarterback inside the division with two Super Bowl MVP trophies and who hasn't missed a game in eight professional seasons.

Saturday's head-to-head showdown between rookie sensations Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III may be the most captivating matchup of this year's preseason, and Griffin's upcoming regular-season debut might have gotten a bit more interesting as well due to the rash of recent injuries that have befallen the Washington Redskins' Week 1 opponent, New Orleans. It's possible the Saints will have to face the incredibly elusive young quarterback without all three of their projected starting linebackers, all of whom got hurt in Friday's game against Jacksonville. Strongside candidate Chris Chamberlain tore his ACL and is done for the year, while noted free-agent additions Curtis Lofton (high ankle sprain) and David Hawthorne (knee surgery) both are questionable to be back from the opener. The Saints did acquire veteran Barrett Ruud in a trade with Seattle on Monday, but he missed a good portion of offseason work battling knee and shoulder injuries.

The outcry for the NFL to end its lockout of the Referees Association grew progressively louder following an unsettling overall performance by the replacement crews this past weekend, but don't expect a resolution to be imminent. As much as the league is losing credibility by continuing to use the substitute refs, it's still yet to take a hit in the wallet over the situation. The television revenue is guaranteed by contract, and fans aren't going to boycott attending games because their favorite official won't be working them. As long as its bottom line isn't being threatened, unfortunately the league can still dig in for a while and hope the referees eventually cave.