NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said quarterback Jake Locker will start against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday barring any setbacks.
Locker worked with the starters on Wednesday, and Munchak said the Titans will see how he responds to practicing with the first-team offense. Matt Hasselbeck also took snaps during Wednesday's practice.
"If we think he's ready to go, he'll play," Munchak said after practice. "I mean we'll see how he feels after today and how he does tomorrow in third-down stuff and just get a feel for just kind of the whole dynamic there. And then if he's ready, we'll give him a chance to start."
Locker has missed five straight games after injuring his left, non-throwing shoulder Sept. 30 against Houston. The second-year quarterback returned to practice Oct. 17 on a limited basis and built up to working with the scout team. Munchak said Locker will have to be honest with coaches on how he feels if the quarterback feels limited in any way.
The Titans (3-6) have their bye after Sunday's game with Miami (4-4), but the coach sees no reason to wait with doctors saying Locker has healed as much as possible right now.
"We all know there's going to be rust on a guy. If he waits two more weeks, he's going to be even rustier," Munchak said. "The advantage of waiting, there's really not an advantage to wait till after the bye because it would be a longer period of time since he's actually played in a game. Physically, we've been told he's fine to play."
Locker started the first four games, completing 63.2 percent of his passes in going 67 of 106 for 781 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked three times, the last Sept. 30 by Glover Quinn in the first quarter of a 38-14 loss in Houston.
That hurt Locker's shoulder for the second time in four games, sidelining him so that he didn't even dress the past five games. Locker said he feels good with Munchak allowing him to work his way back over the past couple weeks, though he knows some things can't be simulated in practice.
"Physically I was able to keep myself in shape, and I was able to throw for most of it," Locker said. "Just kind of making sure that you're in the mental grind of it . but, you know, I tried to do that as well as I could too. I prepared as if I was playing and tried to help Matt anyway I could. Those were things I tried not to get lackadaisical on so I didn't have to adjust to that.
Hasselbeck is 0-2 in his career against the Dolphins, while Locker has never played Miami.
The Titans currently rank 18th in the NFL in passing, averaging 228.6 yards per game. They rank just 26th in passing yards per play at 6.2 yards. Receiver Nate Washington said Hasselbeck did a good job filling in at quarterback and compared a change to bringing in the relief pitcher.
"We'll try to make sure everybody's doing their part, doing their job," Washington said.
Having lost two straight and with owner Bud Adams evaluating everyone over the final seven games, the Titans desperately need a win Sunday. Munchak said the change might help provide a bit of a spark.
"If we feel he's healthy and he can help us win this game, we're going to go with it," Munchak said.
The challenge is for Locker to avoid being injured again. Munchak said the smartest thing they can tell Locker is not to tackle anybody and let go of his aggressiveness. Locker originally hurt his shoulder in the season opener tackling a defender after an interception on a play later ruled an incompletion.
"He needs to avoid those kinds of things and taking useless hits and he'll be smarter getting rid of the ball quicker and moving around, and we have to be smarter with what we do with protections. We do that generally, so I think he'll be fine."
Locker's mobility will be key against the Dolphins, especially with Cameron Wake and his 8.5 sacks. Miami coach Joe Philbin said they would prepare for both quarterbacks.
"Whoever's going to line up there both guys are good quarterbacks so we'll have to prepare for both of them," Philbin said.
Notes: LB Colin McCarthy did not practice Wednesday, and Munchak said they didn't want to aggravate his right ankle practicing indoors. The coach said the linebacker may not practice in weeks until Friday or Saturday since he'll be dealing with the injury the rest of this season.
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