NASHVILLE -- Ryan Fitzpatrick likes how he looks with a bushy beard, it makes him feel comfortable.
Now, about to make his first start in Tennessee with Jake Locker sidelined with a sprained hip, Fitzpatrick is a little upset with himself for shaving his face clean a month ago. His current beard isn't nearly as impressive, and Fitzpatrick needs any edge he can get.
"It's never easy I think to step in from a backup role to the starter kind of mid-stream I guess," Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. "I got to go in there and make these three days very productive. ... Being 3-1 with our defence playing great, I think with the confidence just in general that our team is playing with, this is a fun situation to step into."
The Titans signed Fitzpatrick to a two-year contract in March wanting the veteran in his ninth season to mentor and back up Jake Locker. Now Locker is out a few weeks with a sprained right hip and knee, it's time for Fitzpatrick to step in and try to keep Tennessee's momentum going until Locker returns.
Fitzpatrick said his role now is different than a week ago. He spent plenty of time talking with receivers during practice Wednesday in what he called side conversations. He also threw to them during defensive drills with some extra work after practice
"With Jake now being injured, I've got to go out and let them know what I expect," Fitzpatrick said. "If you're not on the same page, that's what leads to some of the miscommunication and things that can't happen."
Titans coach Mike Munchak said it's an adjustment for everybody with Fitzpatrick.
"He's been through it before," Munchak said. "He's been in the league a long time, so we're hoping he can make this adjustment rather quickly because we need that on Sunday."
The Titans have plenty of confidence in Fitzpatrick because they saw how he nearly beat them last year in Buffalo where he started 32 games over the previous two seasons. Fitzpatrick had 80 touchdowns and 64 interceptions in 55 games with the Bills. He also set Bills records for the longest completion with a 98-yard TD pass and longest TD rushing by a quarterback with a 31-yarder both in 2009.
The Bills cut Fitzpatrick in March to escape the six-year, $59 million deal he signed in October 2011. The Titans scooped him up as a cheaper alternative to back up Locker.
Now Fitzpatrick makes his first start Sunday against Kansas City (4-0). Chiefs coach Andy Reid has seen plenty of Fitzpatrick from his time coaching in Philadelphia where he said the quarterback got after his Eagles pretty good.
"So I'm well aware of him, and have a ton of respect for him, and our team here knows him," Reid said. "They played against him in the past. Everyone knows how capable he is and we'll prepare ourselves to play a heck of a quarterback and a heck of an offence."
Fitzpatrick is 4-1 against the Chiefs. Munchak has said they likely will not call run plays like they did for Locker, who is averaging 6.5 yards a carry this season. Fitzpatrick said he's never been a real speedster himself.
"Usually I'm running out of fear because those guys are big," Fitzpatrick said.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson isn't buying that talk. He called the Harvard graduate a smart quarterback who improvises with his legs just like all the other running quarterbacks.
"He's been in the league for a while," Johnson said. "He knows when you make a mistake, he can capitalize off it. This isn't a regular, backup-type quarterback game for us. He can still run all their plays."
Notes: Locker spoke to reporters Wednesday, walking very stiff and with a neoprene sleeve covering his right leg. He said the injury was pain like he'd never felt before and with the hip joint so big he thought about all the worst possibilities. Locker shared no timetable for his return, saying only that he will be working hard to get back as soon as possible. ... Munchak said the Titans will promote Rusty Smith off the practice squad to back up Fitzpatrick at quarterback. ... WR Kenny Britt returned to practice. RB Shonn Greene (right knee) and DT Sammie Hill (right ankle) worked inside with trainers. DE Ropati Pitoitua (shoulder) did not practice. RT David Stewart (right leg) got the day off.