Titans seek improvement, chemistry as OTAs get underway
By Gary Glenn
Linebacker Ryan Fowler, signed as a restricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys during the off-season, runs toward the ball during Thursday's practice at Baptist Sports Park.
NASHVILLE, TN, May 10, 2007 – As the temperature rose into the mid 80s during Thursday’s mini-camp practice at Baptist Sports Park, the sense of urgency began to set in.
Training camp is only two and a half months away.
For Titans players, that means getting back into football shape, getting their timing down, and building chemistry with their teammates for the 2007 season.
That was the theme on Thursday as veteran players convened for the second of 14 organized training activities at the team’s training facility.
“It’s a good opportunity to get your feel for the game back,” said veteran safety Chris Hope. “Being that we work out year-round, it seems like we just played the Patriots a couple of days ago. I’m just really excited about getting back on the field.”
The Titans had already gotten a jumpstart since March with one of their highest-attended off-season workout programs to date. Now, they’re putting their hard work to the test, looking to improve in every facet of the game leading up to the start of training camp in late July.
“Everything was good, just seeing guys playing through this heat,” second-year QB Vince Young said. “There’s a lot of us, but there’s not enough of us. Rookies coming in (next week) will help us out a little more. But overall, just seeing the guys fight and continuing to work, even though we’re going real fast. Guys were getting a little winded, but they’re still getting back up there and making the play.”
Like most of his teammates, Young has been an active member in the team’s weight room. It’s a bond that will go a long way towards determining the success of the upcoming season.
“We had a great off-season and it’s still going on for us right now,” Young said. “We have like 55 guys out here working in the morning. That’s a pretty good indication that everyone understands what’s going on and how we want to improve on our finish last season.”
For the younger players, it’s an opportunity to make strides on a roster that was the NFL’s second-youngest a year ago.
“There are a lot of young guys that want to get out there on the field,” veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “We finished off well last year and a lot of rookies and second-year guys want a part of that action. The time is now. They understand what can be done without a whole lot of big-name stars on this team, so it’s one of those things where you want to go out and make a name for yourself and help this team get to the playoffs like we expect to do.”
The expectations are greater, but with that comes hard work, players said.
“I’m optimistic, but at the same time you can’t focus on what you did last year,” Hope added. “That’s all we have to live on right now is what we did last year, but you can easily fall into a trap saying since we played good in a few games last year that we’re going to have a good season this year. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
That’s why the work being accomplished now is so important, said Young, who is emphasizing getting rid of the ball quicker and reading defenses faster this off-season.
“When we’re not having these OTAs, me and the receivers, the tight ends and running backs are going to be putting extra work in,” Young said. “I believe in each and every one of these guys, as well as the coaches and the guys upstairs. This is my organization. I love these guys. They are my brothers, and we’re going to fight to the end. Once we come out as a team and we bond like we’re doing right now, we can win ballgames. There is something special going on right now. We feel it, and we have to continue to keep working on it to get to the point to where we want to be.”
Former Bears WR Justin Gage gives the Titans a tall, sure-handed receiver who will compete for playing time in 2007.
GAUGING THE NEW GUYS: Young said he is impressed with former Bears wide receiver Justin Gage, who brings added height (6-4) to the position. “Gage is pretty good,” Young said. “He has great height, good hands and good speed. All of those receivers are going to do a good job. They’re young, but at the same time, they are paying attention to what coach is saying out there. They want to work and they want to play ball. That’s all that you can ask for when guys are out there working hard like they are.”
Nick Harper is a veteran cornerback who helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
VETERAN PRESENCE: Hope, meanwhile, is pleased with the addition of Nick Harper, saying the former Colts cornerback can share his veteran knowledge with Tennessee’s younger defensive backs. “Nick is a proven winner, he’s a champion, he’s played in big games, he’s experienced, and he’s going to have an opportunity to teach some of our younger corners not only how to play the game on Sunday, but how to prepare for the game -- and that’s big,” Hope said. “They haven’t had an opportunity to be coached by a veteran corner since they’ve been in the league, so that was a great addition for us.”
With no letdown in sight, second-year QB Vince Young is working hard to take his game to the next level in 2007.
NO LETDOWN: Bulluck said he sees no letdown in Young, who will look to improve upon his Rookie-of-the-year performance in 2006. “The good thing about this league is you have to prove yourself every year, and he’s a guy who likes to prove himself year-in and year-out, so I don’t see any complacency, big headedness, or anything,” Bulluck said of Young. “He understands his role has to get bigger this year with the departures of Travis (Henry) and Drew (Bennet), who were some of the offensive leaders. He’s definitely out there getting the competition going and trying to get the most out of his teammates.”