|Jake Locker makes his first career start Sunday, he must contend with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. (US Presswire)|
When Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker makes his first career NFL start Sunday afternoon, he’ll go up against one of the most accomplished, respected quarterbacks in league history.
Locker enters the regular season opener against the Patriots with 34 completions and 542 yards in four career games. Tom Brady, Locker’s counterpart, has three Super Bowl rings, 300 touchdowns and needs just 21 passing yards to reach the 40,000 mark for his career.
Brady was once in Locker’s shoes. When Brady stepped on the field at Foxboro Stadium for warm-ups for his first career start more than a decade ago, he was greeted by a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback who now ranks third in NFL history in career passing yards and touchdowns.
"Peyton came over and said 'Hey, I'm
Locker won’t need to introduce himself to Brady in Sunday’s warm-ups. During Locker’s junior season at the University of Washington, the former Huskies’ quarterback emerged as the top-rated player by a number of draft experts for the 2010 NFL Draft. After deciding to return to college for his senior season, Locker was selected by the Titans with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 Draft.
In 2000, five quarterbacks went off the board before the Patriots selected Brady with the 199th overall pick in the sixth round. Five picks earlier, the Bills drafted a defensive tackle from Norway known most for nearly medaling in the shot put at the 1994 World Junior Championships. The lineman, Leif Olve Dolonen Larsen, spent two seasons in the NFL, finishing with two sacks in 16 career games.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for him for how he (Brady) got to where he is,” Locker said. “His preparation speaks to how well he was able to go out and put himself in the position he is in today. I think his preparation and the confidence that he plays with is something that puts him apart.”
When asked on Wednesday what goes through a quarterback’s mind leading up to his first career start, Brady couldn’t recall much about his preparation for the 2001 game against the Colts. Brady finished 13 of 23 for 168 yards in the Patriots’ 44-13 win.
“I was excited when I started, I’m excited for this weekend,” Brady said. “You only get one season-opener, and everything you’ve done for the last eight months is in preparation for this game. This is why you work hard and prepare -- for opportunities like this.”
Though the sample size is small, neophyte quarterbacks have struggled against the Patriots in recent seasons. Since New England defeated the Titans 59-0 in 2009, the Patriots have faced six quarterbacks in their first season as a starter or with five or fewer career starts. In the six games, the quarterbacks have combined for three touchdowns and eight interceptions.
The Patriots won four of the six games and allowed a combined completion percentage of just 56.7 percent. In the last two regular seasons, the Patriots haven’t finished higher than 30th against the pass. During that span, Patriots’ opponents have completed 64.5 percent of their passes against Bill Belichick’s team.
Inexperienced quarterbacks vs. the Patriots since Week 6 of the '09 season
|Patriots 27, Dolphins 17||Nov. 8, 2009||Chad Henne||19 of 34, 219 yards||0 TD, 0 Int||2|
|Patriots 31, Jets 14||Nov. 22, 2009||Mark Sanchez||8 of 21, 136 yards||1 TD, 4 INTs||2|
|Dolphins 22, Patriots 21||Dec. 6, 2009||Chad Henne||29 of 52, 335 yards||2 TD, 1 INT||1|
|Browns 34, Patriots 14||Nov. 7, 2010||Colt McCoy||14 of 19, 174 yards||0 TD, 0 INT||0|
|Patriots 34, Chiefs 3||Nov. 21, 2011||Tyler Palko||24 of 37, 230 yards||0 TD, 3 INTs||3|
|Patriots 41, Broncos 23||Dec. 16, 2011||Tim Tebow||11 of 22, 194 yards||0 TD, 0 INT||4|
Locker expects Belichick to disguise some of his looks Sunday in an effort to force mistakes. In response, the second-year quarterback said he needs to be disciplined with his reads both before and after the snap. Belichick was impressed with Locker’s athleticism when he scouted him heading into the 2011 draft. After watching game film on Locker, the Patriots' coach is wary of Locker's ability to buy time with his legs.
“It looks like he’s adapted well to the Titans’ system,” Belichick said. “They use him on bootlegs and roll-outs to make it tougher on the defense to find him. That is definitely a big challenge for us.”
Titans coach Mike Munchak anticipates that Marks and Solomon will be ready for the Patriots’ game, but is unsure whether they will practice Thursday. Otto may be forced to miss the opener with a fractured right ring finger.
“The stitches are out, it’s just healing,” Otto said.
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