Titans' biggest key to success

With the third pick in the 1995 draft, the Houston Oilers found what everyone in the league needs: A quarterback who developed into a reliable starter and could lead a team to victory.

Steve McNair was unconventional in many ways: He had unsurpassed toughness, combined great ability to throw and run and won the respect of his team with his ability to lead it.

He had shortcomings, for sure, but ultimately, after the franchise relocated and was reinvented as the Tennessee Titans, he took it where every team wants to go. He took the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV. In 2003, he shared the league’s MVP Award with Peyton Manning.

Since his football fade and subsequent trade to Baltimore after the 2005 season, the Titans have not found a long-term answer at quarterback. They spent the third pick in 2006 on Vince Young. They went 13-3 in 2008 with Kerry Collins at the helm. They spent the eighth pick in 2011 on Jake Locker.

But none of them has proved a long-term guy with the capabilities of McNair or any of the league’s current top quarterbacks.

The biggest issue regarding the potential for the Tennessee Titans over the next three years is quarterback. They have to find, develop and build around a guy. Maybe they already have him. Maybe they don't.

Perhaps Locker stays healthy and goes to new heights under new coach Ken Whisenhunt. If he does, the franchise would be in far better shape than conventional opinion says.

Plenty of league insiders would be surprised if Locker emerges as more than he’s shown so far, which is a player who has the ability to play well in stretches but has spotty poise and a propensity for getting hurt.

The Titans spent a sixth-round pick on a big, big-armed pocket passer, LSU's Zach Mettenberger who could be an ideal fit for Whisenhunt and develop into that long-term solution. However, Mettenberger was coming off a serious knee injury in his final year at LSU. He also has a character question, as he pleaded guilty in 2010 to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery for groping a woman at a bar while he was a student and quarterback at Georgia.

If Locker isn’t the answer, the Titans have hope for Mettenberger. But sixth-round picks who turn into solid starters are a rarity.

In the next three seasons, the Titans simply have to identify a quarterback who can give them a chance to win and have him leading their huddle.