NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jake Locker was the Titans starting quarterback. Then he was benched, forced to watch a rookie take his job. It has made this season one of Locker's toughest challenges.
If that wasn't enough, due to an injury to rookie Zach Mettenberger, Locker is once again Tennessee's starter. But with three games left this season and on his contract, Locker doesn't see it as an audition for another team — to him, it's simply another chance to play with his teammates.
"Definitely I think that when you get caught up spending too much time on the future, you forget to cherish the moments that you have right now right in front of you, and that's what I'm excited about," Locker said. "I built a lot of relationships in this locker room, and ... I'm looking forward to the opportunity to compete with these guys to end out the year."
Locker was drafted eighth overall in 2011 to be the Titans' quarterback for years to come. Injuries keeping him off the field, including two in the span of three games, prompted first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt to switch to the rookie Zach Mettenberger.
But the rookie aggravated a sprained right shoulder last week when sacked for the fifth time. Whisenhunt and Mettenberger both say they hope the rookie can play again this season with time running out. So barring an impressive recovery, it's Locker's time once again.
Locker isn't rusty, having finished the last two games once Mettenberger was hurt. For the season, Locker has thrown for 936 yards completing 59.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has been sacked 14 times, including three after replacing Mettenberger in last week's 36-7 loss to the Giants.
Titans offensive coordinator Jason Michael said Thursday that Locker never batted an eye since being benched, and the coach credited Locker's professionalism for how he helped Mettenberger as the backup.
With the Titans' offensive line bruised and battered with both tackles missing the last two games, Locker's mobility could be a big advantage Sunday against the New York Jets (2-11). Left tackle Taylor Lewan couldn't practice Thursday with a sprained left ankle, while right tackle Michael Oher's left toe is so bad he got a second opinion Tuesday.
"We probably won't know for sure until Saturday who's going to actually line up for us," Whisenhunt said.
Locker still ranks third in rushing for the Titans running 20 times for 135 yards despite not playing seven games. He ran only three times last year when the Titans beat the Jets 38-13, but Locker threw for three touchdowns. Jets coach Rex Ryan says he had been hoping to see the rookie quarterback rather than the very athletic Locker.
"He really carved us up," Ryan said. "Again, we haven't forgotten that, that's for sure."
Locker had to be taken off the field on a stretcher with an injured hip and knee after bouncing between Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples. Locker is feeling very healthy right now and will be ready to run.
"It's something that God gifted me with, and when the opportunity presents itself I'm going to take advantage of that," Locker said. "So maybe it'll slow their rush down a little bit. If so, that'd be something that is hopefully beneficial for us."