Commentary: Titans need to let Locker be the authority on their offense

Jake Locker has been an NFL quarterback for three seasons and a starter for two.

That’s not an overwhelming amount of experience but it is significant, even if he has missed time with three different injuries.

Yet the Tennessee Titans still view him as a relative novice in need of a mentor as evidenced by Thursday’s free agent acquisition of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a career backup.

“Glad to be able to get a deal done with Charlie,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said in the team’s release to announce the move. “He brings a familiarity with the offense we are installing. He will be a great resource for Jake and the entire offense; and as a player, he understands what we want to get done. Working with him over the last year and seeing how he works and his ability gives me confidence that he is the right fit to fill this role.”

Whitehurst’s ‘experience’ in Whisenhunt’s offense consists of one season – the last one. He appeared in two games and did not throw a pass.

How much insight can he really offer to Locker who, even with his injuries, stared down some of the league’s best defenses in 2013, including those of Pittsburgh and San Francisco? In fact, the last time Whitehurst, 31, threw a pass in a regular season game was Oct. 30, 2011.

Two years ago the Titans elevated Locker to the starter ahead of Matt Hasselbeck, yet the dynamic between the two remained one of big brother (Hasselbeck) and little brother (Locker). Last year, they cut Hasselbeck but brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who now seems certain to be released. Once again, Locker was treated as a player who needed to be propped up by someone older and wiser as much as he needed to be backed up.

Now comes Whitehurst.

“Charlie is player who comes here with a great knowledge of Coach Whisenhunt’s offense; and as a player, he has been around some outstanding NFL quarterbacks,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “He is smart guy with a good arm and he will add to our offensive group as a veteran quarterback.”

The starting quarterback ought to be viewed by everyone on the team as the leading authority on the offense. It is important to his psyche and sends a clear message to his teammates that he is in charge.

When the San Francisco 49ers turned to Colin Kaepernick midway through the 2012 season they never looked back. They also didn’t particularly concern themselves with his backup. Rather than hang on to veteran Alex Smith they traded him and sent a clear message that Kaepernick was their guy. The results speak for themselves.

Sure, questions remain about Locker. None of them, though, involve his intelligence or his work ethic. There’s no doubt that he can learn an offense in an offseason and will put in the work necessary to do so.

The Titans invested a first-round draft pick and, consequently, millions of dollars in Locker.

Thus far, though, they have not placed their trust in him. Not fully anyway. They continue to place great importance on the backup and what he can teach Locker.

Only when they get past that notion and move him to the head of the class, so to speak, will they know how good he – and this team – can be.