Locker's long-term future clouded further with Titans' selection of Mettenberger

It is still a possibility that Jake Locker will be the Tennessee Titans quarterback for a long time.

There was a sense that his days were numbered, though, when franchise officials capped their participation in the 2014 NFL draft Saturday with the sixth-round selection of quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

It has been just three seasons since the Titans got Locker with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft. After Steve McNair was drafted fifth overall in 1995 it was four years before the team used another pick on a quarterback. Likewise, it was four years between Vince Young’s selection at No. 3 and the next time the Titans chose a quarterback.

“I can’t speak about a long-term situation with Jake, that’s something that will play itself out based on how everybody plays,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Every player in the NFL, it’s based on what he does now. It doesn’t matter what he has done in the past or what you think he can do in the future.

“… We feel good about Jake. That doesn’t change our opinion on Jake. We are just trying to make our football team better.”

Mettenberger is similar to the others who followed the first-round selections in that was selected late in the draft. The Titans used a fifth-round pick on Kevin Daft in 1999 and a sixth-round choice on Rusty Smith in 2010.

The good news for Locker is that those two never advanced beyond third on the team’s depth chart.

Neither, however, faced the same level of college competition as Mettenberger, LSU’s starting quarterback for the last two seasons. Daft played at Division II California-Davis and Smith starred for Florida Atlantic in the Sun Belt Conference.

“I think playing in the SEC against some great talent and good defenses, you get a real sense of where he is physically,” Whisenhunt said.

Plus, Mettenberger has arm strength that far exceeds what the other two displayed.

“He is just so big and throws the ball so well,” general manager Ruston Webster said. “And the talent level … they say that a quarterback’s talent is in his arm and that’s the case for him. He throws the ball really well.”

Those aren’t the only differences.

When Daft and Smith were drafted Jeff Fisher, who had a defensive background, was entrenched in his position and the team embodied his core principles of ball and clock control.

The current situation is unique in that Whisenhunt is in his first year as Titans coach and likely looking to put his personal stamp on the organization. He has an offensive background, calls his own plays and works closely with the quarterbacks.

“I enjoy working with quarterbacks,” Whisenhunt said. “They’re all different. I’ve been very lucky to work with some outstanding quarterbacks, each one of them is different.

“I’m excited to work with Zach. I’m excited to work with Jake, obviously, [and] with Charlie [Whitehurst] and even Tyler [Wilson]. Our four that we’ve got on the team right now, all different, came different ways, but [I am] excited to work with all of them.”

McNair and Young also were unquestioned starters at the time the next quarterbacks were drafted. McNair started every game in 1997 and 1998. Young, although in and out of the lineup during his first four seasons, started the final 10 games of 2009 and won eight of them.

Injuries limited Locker to just 18 starts the last two seasons and a little more than a week ago the franchise declined to exercise an option that would have extended his contract through 2015. That means Locker is in the final season of the deal he signed as a rookie.

Now comes Mettenberger.

“I will tell you one thing about it,” Webster said. “There is one guy that I don’t worry about handling things, and it is Jake Locker. Jake and I have a really good relationship, or I feel we do.

“In talking to him, he is really not fazed by any of it.”

He’s certainly not on solid ground either.