Few quarterbacks enter the 2014 season with more to prove than Jake Locker.
Though outside perception suggests pressure is mounting on the man the Tennessee Titans drafted in the first round three years ago, Locker exudes an unflappable demeanor and enthusiasm to play for his new coaches.
"I've really enjoyed working with the new staff. They're really intelligent football-wise, really successful in the past," Locker told USA TODAY Sports. "Moving in the right direction and excited to be a part of it."
Locker himself seemed headed in the right direction last season, his second as the Titans' starter. He was playing efficiently (10 total TDs against five turnovers) and cracked the 60% completion rate for the first time in the NFL or college, where he was a four-year starter for the Washington Huskies.
But after engineering wins in four of his first six starts of 2013 — and playing through a sprained knee and injured hip — Locker went down Nov. 10 with a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his right foot.
Since then, the Titans fired coach Mike Munchak, hired replacement Ken Whisenhunt and later chose not to pick up the 2015 option on Locker's rookie contract, leaving him this season to prove he's the long-term answer under center the franchise has sought since Steve McNair's heyday.
Locker's taking it all in stride.
"To me, that option didn't really matter," he said. "I didn't look at how the team felt about me any differently. I understand it's a business, and obviously I've had some injuries the past couple years.
"I'm going into it with the mindset of, you go out and play well, that's all gonna take care of itself and you don't have to worry about it."
Most recently, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers — immobile but precise quarterbacks — have experienced great success under Whisenhunt. But Locker thinks he could thrive in a manner similar to Ben Roethlisberger, who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win Super Bowl XL to cap the 2005 season with Whisenhunt in the offensive coordinator chair.
"Mobility plays its role within this offense," said Locker, who's often had to rely on his superior athleticism dating to his Washington days, when his supporting cast was largely suspect. "You have so many options on every given play, it allows you the opportunity to buy yourself some time and get to those later options in your concepts. I think that's where my ability to stretch plays will come into effect."
A wildly popular player for the Huskies, Locker, 25, also seems to have strong backing in Tennessee.
"The thing I like about Jake, he exhibits qualities you like to see out of that position," Whisenhunt told USA TODAY Sports.
"They like him around here."
Cornerback Jason McCourty is among those firmly behind his quarterback.
"Everybody here that knows him definitely are always in his corner. You see the way he works, how much he puts into this, how much he competes. As a teammate, that's what you want to see," McCourty told USA TODAY Sports.
"We see that from Jake every single day."
And Locker is confident banking on himself, even though the Titans drafted Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round last month.
Locker says he is "really encouraged" by the progress of his foot and equally upbeat about the strides he made as a passer last year. Though his 60.7% completion rate didn't rank among the league leaders, he points to the bigger picture.
"The completion percentage doesn't tell the story of how accurate you're throwing the football. A lot of things play into it. Sometimes throwing the football away — not taking a sack or not trying to force it — that's a positive play for you and your team, but it's going to hurt your completion percentage obviously," Locker said.
"Last year, I was able to find a really good balance with that, finding ways to complete passes at a high level — highest that I ever have — but also be smart and put our team in the best situation to win. If you're able to find that balance, you're doing what your team needs you to."
Now Locker just needs to do it again.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis