RENTON — The famous RV emblazoned “Ferndawgs” is no longer part of the family, having been sold to Husky fans after Jake Locker headed to the NFL.
When the NFL schedule was released in April and showed the Tennessee Titans playing the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Oct. 13, the same crew of Locker family and friends that wore out I-5 from Ferndale to Montlake planned to revive the caravan.
“A lot of people up here had marked this one on their calendars as soon as it came out,” said Scott Locker, the father of Jake and spiritual leader of the Ferndawgs. “To have your hometown team and your kid’s team playing was kind of a special deal and there are a lot of us that are pretty disappointed that he’s not going to be out there.”
Indeed, what would have been a much-anticipated return to Seattle for Jake Locker won’t happen. Locker is sidelined, maybe until November, with a hip injury suffered in a Sept. 29 win over the Jets.
And given the nature of the NFL schedule, Locker might not have a chance to play in Seattle for some time. If the league keeps its current schedule rotation, Seattle wouldn’t be slated to host Tennessee again until 2021. (Locker did play in an exhibition game at CenturyLink in 2012).
“It’s tough,” said Locker, now in his third year with the Titans, in a phone interview with Seattle reporters Wednesday. “I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to play there and be able to play in front of family and friends.”
He said he hopes to make the trip anyway, and if possible, attend Washington’s game with Oregon on Saturday.
But his priority, he said, is the Titans, a team he had finally begun to make his own before his injury against the Jets.
Many observers viewed this as something of a make-or-break year for Locker with the Titans, who drafted him as the No. 8 overall pick in 2011. After playing in a reserve role behind Matt Hasselbeck as a rookie in 2011, he won the starting job a year ago.
But injuries got in the way then, too, a shoulder ailment costing him five games. The Titans went 4-7 in his 11 starts, with Locker compiling a passer rating of 74.0.
While some might have wondered if Locker was really the team’s quarterback of the future, the Titans made it clear they thought he was, letting Hasselbeck go and having Locker work through the offseason as the starter.
Through four games, Locker had rewarded their faith, completing 62 percent of his passes and throwing six touchdown passes, with no interceptions and a rating of 99.0.
“Jake did a great job with the decision-making, when to throw and when not to and I think that kept us in all of the games,” said Tennessee coach Mike Munchak on Wednesday. “… this is his first year of really being a new starter for the whole offseason, going through the OTAs, training camp. So it was more his team and we got players that we felt fit…weapons that would help him, we felt, with his strengths.”
Said Locker: “I felt really confident. You know, we were playing well on offense, kind of catching our stride. We were doing some things pretty good.”
Then came the hip injury against the Jets after he had already thrown three touchdown passes.
Without Locker, Tennessee is going with Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started every game for Buffalo the past two seasons and has 69 career starts dating to 2005.
Fitzpatrick threw 41 passes against the Chiefs in a 26-17 loss, also tossing a touchdown pass and rushing for 50 yards.
“They weren’t hesitant to pass the ball,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “They have a lot of confidence in Ryan, and once he got going he made the plays that gave them a chance to win the game.”
The conventional wisdom in Tennessee is that Locker’s likely out until a Nov. 3 game at St. Louis that follows a bye week.
Locker, though, is hoping for a quicker return.
“I’m just trying to get back as quick as I can,” he said. “I’m not paying attention to timelines that have been thrown out there. I feel good and I just want to continue to progress and get back on the field as soon as I can.”
And while disappointed he’ll miss Sunday’s game, he otherwise has little about which to complain. He’s married to former UW softball player Lauren Greer and the two have a 14-month-old daughter, Colbie Jo.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Locker said of playing in the NFL. “And it’s challenging. It’s a new challenge every day. But, it’s something that I’m very thankful for. I love having this opportunity and you know, just going to continue to grow and I hope to enjoy it as long as possible.”