Rookie QBs may start as Vikings, Titans finish up
''If our starters play, it won't be for long,'' Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
The Titans and Minnesota Vikings are just trying to wrap up the preseason safely, so they can turn their attention to the start of the regular season on Sept. 7.
This game features a pair of men who both interviewed for the Titans' coaching job with Tennessee picking Whisenhunt in his second time around as a head coach. Mike Zimmer didn't last long as Minnesota hired him two days after Whisenhunt agreed to work in Tennessee.
Whisenhunt and the Titans have put their fortunes in the hands of Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011. Locker looks comfortable in the new offense. He has a passer rating of 119.9 this preseason, sixth among all quarterbacks, is completing 70 percent of his passes, has not turned the ball over and has helped the Titans rank third in passing offense this month.
Locker's backup, Charlie Whitehurst, hurt his right pinkie Aug. 15. He's progressed to the point where his finger now is wrapped instead of a bracing device, and he's even thrown a few balls. But Whisenhunt doesn't want to risk hurting Whitehurst's finger again until the quarterback can safely take a snap.
''He's played well for us this year in the preseason, so I think you know what he is and what he brings to the table as far as understanding this offense,'' Whisenhunt said.
Rookie Zach Mettenberger is ready for one last big shot at playing time, though the Titans (2-1) added Dominique Davis on Tuesday if needed to take some snaps. Mettenberger already leads all NFL quarterbacks this preseason, throwing for 504 yards. A sixth-round draft pick out of LSU, he has been impressive considering he had a torn ACL repaired in January.
''I hold myself to a pretty high standard, and I'm performing pretty well right now,'' Mettenberger said. ''Not quite where I want to be, but to come off a season-ending injury like I did last year to perform as well as I have has been a great thing so far.''
Zimmer has named Cassel as the starter for the season opener at St. Louis. Bridgewater, taken with the final pick of the first round, has looked much sharper the past two games. The Vikings (3-0) could turn to the rookie if Cassel struggles too much this season.
''If he does start the game, it's good for us to see how he takes the beginning of the game,'' Zimmer said of Bridgewater.
Christian Ponder is expected to play plenty for Minnesota. The 12th overall selection in 2011 has thrown only seven passes, and a good showing could entice a team needing a quarterback even as the Vikings say they plan to keep three quarterbacks.
Ponder said he has not asked to be traded.
''For me, I'm just thinking about it as I just want to go out and have a good game, not for an audition for another team or anything but for myself and for this team,'' Ponder said. ''You know, right now, my thoughts are securing a spot on this roster.''
Vikings receiver Greg Jennings said Ponder has handled the situation like a true professional.
''This is the nature of the business we're in,'' Jennings said. ''There's going to be guys who are ahead of us. There's going to be guys who are behind us. In games, we call them sudden changes. There are going to be changes that are made that we have to adjust on the fly and we have to roll with, and I think he's done an outstanding job.
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker