When quarterback Jake Locker showed up for the start of the Titans offseason program on Monday, no one needed to tell him what's on the line.
He knows he's facing a make-or-break season.
"It is probably fair to say that every year for most guys. This league is so much 'What have you done for me lately?' If you don't have that approach going into the season, it is not going to work out the way you want it to," the fourth-year pro said. "You are always competing for your job and I am not going to change that."
Coming off back-to-back injury-shortened seasons, Locker will be playing for his present and future. The Titans have made it clear he is the starter going into the final year of his rookie contract. But they have no plans to exercise the costly fifth-year option of around $13 million.
Locker first has to get healthy, however. He had surgery on his right foot late last season, had a follow-up surgery last month to remove the hardware, and recently ditched a protective boot. He had on a pair of white Nikes as he met with reporters at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Monday.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt reiterated he expects Locker to take part in organized team activities in May, with more work to follow in June. For now, Locker will throw passes from a stationary position.
"It is an important time for him," Whisenhunt said. "Jake is a guy who is going to work hard and push it. But there is a fine line, and we have to make sure we are conservative with that."
But after missing 14 of 32 potential starts over the last two seasons, Locker must prove he can be counted on.
"You're paid to play this game, you've got to be productive and you've got to play," Whisenhunt said. "I think we all understand that. Certainly that position with Jake, you want to have stability, you want to have someone you know can do that. … Jake is going to have the opportunity to show he can do that."
Locker said he's ahead of schedule in recovery and has had no setbacks. Until he's able to do more, quarterbacks Charlie Whitehurst and Tyler Wilson will handle the snaps when the Titans step up their on-field work.
Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty is confident Locker will return in top form. The Titans started 3-1 last season as Locker threw for six touchdowns and zero interceptions. Then came a hip injury that sidelined him for two games. He played in three more games before the foot injury ended his season after seven starts.
The Titans finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
"Everyone will have their own opinions on his accuracy, his arm strength and all of that. But I know the guy works his butt off. I feel like when Jake gets healthy he is going to pick up where he left off," McCourty said. "I am excited for him. Injuries have plagued him so far, but I truly believe this could be his year and he could get back healthy and lead this team."
Wyatt also writes for The Tennessean in Nashville.