Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) calls at play in the huddle in the first quarter of their game against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 in Tampa, Fl. (GEORGE WALKER IV / THE TENNESSEAN)
By Jim Wyatt | The Tennessean
Jake Locker hasn't played in six weeks.
When the Titans quarterback steps back on the field -- he's expected to start on Sunday against the Dolphins -- it will be trial by fire. He hasn't thrown much to his wide receivers, so chemistry could be an issue. He hasn't faced a fierce pass rush.
So will the coaching staff be forgiving if the second-year pro is less than sharp?
"He needs to be ready to play and play to the best of his ability," quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said. "We don't have time for anybody to be rusty. That excuse isn't available for anybody, including him. And he knows that. It's part of the deal. And if you ask Jake, he doesn't expect to be rusty. He's worked his butt off to be ready."
Locker took reps with the first team on Wednesday for the first time since he was knocked out of the Sept. 30 game against the Texans with a dislocated left shoulder.
Coach Mike Munchak said Locker would be monitored the rest of the week before making a final decision about his status for Sunday's game, but for now it's all systems go. Doctors cleared Locker for contact.
"I feel good. And I don't think they'd give me this opportunity if I didn't," Locker said. "As a competitor you want to be out there and you want to be helping your team any way you can, so I am excited. Any time you get the opportunity to play it is exciting, especially when you have sat and watched for a month or so."
Munchak said he liked the way Locker practiced on Wednesday. He also said there's no reason to delay Locker's return until after the bye -- which follows Sunday's game at Miami -- especially with the Titans (3-6) in need of a spark after a 51-20 loss to the Bears.
Locker began pressing coaches to let him play weeks ago, but doctors held him back.
In the meantime, Loggains worked with Locker on footwork and throwing mechanics. Locker also asked for extra assignments, and he assisted Matt Hasselbeck, who started the past five games.
"There is really no advantage to waiting until after the bye because there will be a longer period of time since he's actually played in the game," Munchak said. "Jake is very determined. His mind-set is he could have played last week if we would have let him. He has been ready mentally."
How quickly Locker is able to get into a rhythm, however, remains to be seen.
He first dislocated his non-throwing shoulder in the season opener against the Patriots, but he bounced back to start against the Chargers in Week 2.
He began to heat up in Week 3 against the Lions, going 29-of-42 passing for 368 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory. Then he was hurt again early against the Texans.
Former NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb said Locker is certain to face challenges. He pointed out that Hasselbeck threw three interceptions in the first two games Locker missed.
"It does take time," Holcomb said. "The speed of the game, you can't simulate that in practice. Practice is one thing, but when you have live bullets coming at you on Sunday it is a different deal, plus this is Jake's first year starting.
"I think he'll be knocking the rust off, but he is one of those guys who can move around, and when you can do that the rust is not as apparent as a true pocket passer."
One thing Locker said he wouldn't worry about is his left shoulder, despite the fact he's one big hit away from being shut down for the season. He plans to wear a harness under his pads.
"I am not going to go out and play with any concerns, or anything in the back of my mind. I am just going to go out and play like I always have," Locker said. "I am not going to worry about that, because if it's going to happen it is inevitable. There is no way I can prevent it."
Reach Jim Wyatt at 615-259-8015 or firstname.lastname@example.org.