Titans coach Mike Munchak said Monday that Locker will start this season over veteran Matt Hasselbeck, choosing to go with the passer Tennessee hopes to build around after drafting Locker out of Washington in April 2011.
Munchak announced the decision after practice, saying Locker gives the Titans their best chance to win the AFC South as their quarterback this season and hopefully for many seasons to come.
"By no means has this job been given to him," Munchak said. "He's earned it."
The Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32) had let the quarterbacks compete through the offseason, with each starting a game this preseason and splitting snaps in practice. Munchak says Hasselbeck was way ahead of Locker last season, but Locker caught up and won the job with his ability to move the team and score points.
The eighth pick overall in 2011, Locker will play 40 to 50 snaps Thursday night against Arizona (No. 23) with three weeks to prep for the opener Sept. 9 against New England.
"It's really cool," Locker said of the decision. "It's something I'm proud of, but it's not going to change my approach on how I practice or my preparation for a game. That will still all be the same, but it is cool to be given this opportunity."
Locker also said the competition with Hasselbeck allowed both to push each other in a positive way.
"It forced you to come back and try to rebound or build on what you had done before," Locker said.
Munchak said giving Hasselbeck the news was a tough conversation. Munchak helped talk the veteran into signing a three-year deal with the Titans last July after the NFL lockout ended, and Hasselbeck turned in the fourth-best season in yards passing in franchise history. Only Hall of Famer Warren Moon had thrown for more.
Hasselbeck also helped Munchak go 9-7 in his debut season as head coach, just missing a playoff berth on a tiebreaker. Munchak said Hasselbeck was exactly what they needed with his leadership and experience.
The veteran said he's been in Locker's shoes and knows it's an exciting move for the young quarterback.
"I had the chance to help lead a franchise and help build a program, and I had a chance to be the guy under center, and he's got that chance right now," Hasselbeck said. "As hard as it was, Munch made his decision, and as hard as it was for me to hear that, I'm also excited for Jake. I'll help and support him any way I can, and I'll be happy to do it."
Locker has the mobility Hasselbeck is lacking going into his 14th season. Combined with his toughness and strong arm, Locker started 40 games for the Huskies, throwing for 7,639 yards with 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions.
With the Titans, Locker threw for 542 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions coming off the bench in five games as a rookie.
"When Jake did get a chance to play last year, he was ready to go," Munchak said. "He played well and handled situations. He moved the team. He brought excitement and energy, and when the season ended, we thought we had something special, like we did when we drafted him."
In his NFL debut as a starter last week - a 30-7 win at Tampa Bay - Locker struggled and was intercepted on his second pass. He was just 4 of 11 for 21 yards but also ran twice for 24 yards, including a long scramble of 21 yards. It's that mobility paired with a revived Chris Johnson that the Titans hope will rev up an offense that was next to last in rushing last season.