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Live from Nashville, aka Seattle South: An interview with the architect, Mike Reinfeldt
Posted by Jerry Brewer
This is the first of three reports on the Titans and their Seattle connections. Coming Tuesday: Jake Locker. Wednesday: Matt Hasselbeck.
Tennessee Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt swears this is just a crazy coincidence. He didn't plan to stock up on popular Seattle quarterbacks. He didn't plan to stock up on Seattle people, period. No, really, he didn't. It just, um, happened. And the fact he's a former Seahawks executive who knows the Pacific Northwest, well, that's just superfluous happenstance.
Then he grins.
"Obviously, I spent eight years in Seattle, and I have a great fondness for it," says Reinfeldt, who moved from Seattle to Nashville in 2007. "But I can honestly say that we didn't choose these guys because they're from Seattle."
These guys include free agent signee Matt Hasselbeck, the most successful quarterback in Seahawks history and the only one to lead Seattle to a Super Bowl; and Jake Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and perhaps the most gifted quarterback to come out of the University of Washington, which has a solid QB tradition.
And the Seattle ties extend beyond Reinfeldt, Hasselbeck and Locker. Safety Jordan Babineaux, aka Big Play Babs, signed with the Titans last week after spending his first seven seasons with the Seahawks. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was the Seahawks defensive backs coach last season. Vice president of player personnel Ruston Webster had the same role in Seattle from 2006-2010. And assistant offensive line coach Art Valero was also with the Seahawks last season, doing the best he could after being promoted to O-line coach when Alex Gibbs resigned eight days before the season opener.
What's next? Will we hear that Titans star running back Chris Johnson is vacationing in Seattle during his holdout?
OK, maybe not. But Seattle will play a huge role in the success or failure of the Titans this season.
Reinfeldt, the team's architect, likes his roster. A huge reason is because he has, in Hasselbeck and Locker, "an ideal complement" at quarterback. The Titans appeared to have recovered quickly after banishing and then cutting ties with the immature Vince Young.
Tennessee picked Young No. 3 overall in 2006, and normally when a team is forced to give up on a young quarterback so soon, it sets the franchise back. But here are the Titans, months since dismissing Young, with a solid veteran quarterback who can stabilize the team and serve as a mentor for Locker.
"Well, if you had told me on March 1 we'd be where we are now, I'd say, 'Hallelujah! Amen!" Reinfeldt said. "It's worked out really well for us. We've got the young quarterback that we think has a chance. And we got the veteran who's been there, he's the leader, he can win games, he won a playoff game last year. So we kind of have exactly the two components that we want. Jake can now take his time and learn the position, and we'll play him when he's ready to play. We don't have to rush him."
Reinfeldt admits being surprised that Hasselbeck was available. Early in the offseason, he had assumed that the Seahawks would re-sign their quarterback.
"I thought there was a chance (Matt wouldn't be available)," Reinfeldt said. "I was actually very surprised when it worked out the way it did. For us, it was an opportunity, and we seized the opportunity."
Reinfeldt goes back to Green Bay with Hasselbeck. His history with the quarterback made him confident that Hasselbeck was the right guy for this situation.
"It's funny because I knew Matt when he was in Green Bay as a sixth round pick," Reinfeldt said. "So I signed his rookie contract. I signed the one when we traded for him to go from Green Bay to Seattle. And then I signed his other contract. I've signed, like, all of his contracts in his life, I think. A lot of symmetry there. He's a special guy, and we're pleased to have him.
"I think Matt's a really quality person. He's going to compete for the job. In his mind, he should be the starting quarterback. At the same time, given the situation with Jake, he could be the guy that could step back and be the mentor. And whether that happens this year or next year or three years from now, who knows? But I think he's capable of being that guy. Some guys, some pro athletes, don't do well in that situation. I think Matt's a special guy."
I've only seen one practice, but Hasselbeck and Locker both looked solid Monday. Hasselbeck remains a quarterback who can wow you with his ability to pick up an offense's nuances quickly. He rarely makes the same mistake multiple times. He's developing a rapport with the receivers. He looks spry right now, which is saying something because he's surrounded by young quarterbacks.
Locker continues to improve his accuracy. He still throws too high when he's amped up, but he's learning to control that problem. Like Hasselbeck, he's still learning the system of offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. But during Monday's practice, he had fewer rookie moments than I expected. He was impressive.
(Shameless plug: I'll write a piece on Locker in this space Tuesday morning.)
"Actually, our scouts had liked him the year before," Reinfeldt said of Locker. "He's a great kid. He's a natural leader. We talked to other people on the team. We went out there for a private workout the day after his Pro Day, and he just wowed us. I think he threw 120 balls, and it was an unbelievable workout. We knew he had all the physical skills. So, we knew early on that he was the guy we wanted out of the draft. It fell our way, and we got the guy."
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. It's possible Hasselbeck, who has thrown more interceptions (44) than touchdown passes (34) over the past three years, could play poorly even with a better O-line and running game. And it's possible the Titans reached and selected the wrong quarterback in Locker.
But it's also possible that Hasselbeck will make the Seahawks regret moving on too soon and that Locker will become a polished quarterback after a few years of learning.
It's a very Seattle story to hear that a GM has raided the city's football talent, and we're not sure whether he's a genius or dunce.
Trash or treasure?
Buyers beware or passers beware?
Reinfeldt has gone all in with some of Seattle's best.
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