“I thought this morning’s practice was heated and I think they (the players) were anticipating the padded practice this afternoon,” said head coach Jeff Fisher.
But it wasn’t just the players who were hyped about getting into full gear, the fans were too. Sunday’s late practice, spelled by an on and off slight breeze, saw the biggest crowd of the training sessions so far and they weren’t disappointed — getting to see first-rounder Michael Griffin knock the wind out of WR Brandon Jones on a ball Griffin dislodged with the jarring hit, LB David Thorton collide with rookie RB Chris Henry in team drills (Thornton was so excited he acknowledged the fans by taking his helmet off) and LB Ryan Fowler’s bone-crushing leveling of FB Ahmard Hall in 7-on-7 drills.
By nature of football, some of the hits and competition against one another brought out some talking and flared tempers by the players, an element Fisher believes is a part of competition. “They are going to compete,” he said. “They will compete out here, but they are going to walk in that door together and that’s the important thing.”
MLB COMPETITION HEATING UP: Retired linebacker Peter Sirmon’s 105 tackles will be missing this season. Who will make up those numbers in 2007? Enter last year’s fourth-round draft choice Stephen Tullock and four-year veteran Ryan Fowler, both of whom are in the midst of a full-fledged battle for the starting position at middle linebacker.
Tulloch, entering his second year under the tutelage of Asst. Head Coach/Linebackers Dave McGinnis, played in all 16 games with three starts at middle linebacker his rookie season, recording 37 tackles, 0.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, one interception and two passes defensed. Fowler, signed during the off-season as a restricted free agent from the Dallas Cowboys, was a special teams standout looking for a better opportunity to play on defense.
McGinnis believes the competition is making both the players and team better in the long run. “It’s been a very, very good competition,” McGinnis said. “They’ve been pushing each other, they’ve been helping each other and you can see both of them getting incrementally better just because of that competition.”
When asked what it will take to win the starting middle linebacker position, McGinnis went on to say, “What we are looking for in that middle linebacker is first of all, he has to be able to take charge. Get our front set, be very definitive with his calls and do those things. They both have to continue to get better in that regard. Then we want somebody that is going to get up there and clog the run because that position on this football team is extremely important and they have to take it upon themselves to be a lynchpin and be able to stop the running game.”
McGinnis finished by saying, “The guy that comes out on top is going to be the guy that earns it.”
EALY SEIZING OPPORTUNITY: Rookie WR Biren Ealy’s path to the NFL has been interesting, to say the least. After playing three seasons at the University of Arizona, he transferred to the University of Houston in the city where he grew up. After having one season of eligibility left, Ealy thrived for Houston, playing in all 14 games (six starts) and finishing fourth on the team with 34 receptions for 420 yards and six touchdowns.
As chance would have it, while working out in Houston preparing for his pro day, he became friends with Titans QB Vince Young, who shared the same trainer. The friendship led to the pair working out together, throwing and catching on a regular basis, and Young mentioning the 6-foot-3, 207-pound Ealy to Titans coaches.
“That’s my boy. I told the coaches to take a shot on him and that they would like him a lot,” Young said. “He’s out here getting into the offense, he hasn’t been making any mistakes out here, he’s catching the ball and that’s all we need from him.”
Though with Young’s recommendation, Ealy knows it’s going to be an uphill battle to make the team with 12 receivers on the roster. “I’m just going to try and practice to the best of my ability. I feel like the rest will take care of itself,” he said. “All I want to do is get better every day and I feel things will work out.”
HAYNESWORTH EAGER TO IMPROVE DEFENSE: In 2006, Tennessee’s defense ranked last in the NFL in total defense, giving up over 369 yards per game. Six-year veteran DT Albert Haynesworth is determined to get the defense back to where it was just a few years ago when the unit was among the stingiest in the league.
“We have to get back to where we used to be when we were the Tennessee Tyrants,” Haynesworth said. “Our main objective this training camp is to move up 22 spots. Last year we couldn’t really do much in the run or the pass. We just have to step up, just be a better defense. We can’t just sit back be quiet and sit back on our hands and stuff like that. We are going to be out there talking, raising heck and we are just going to get after people.”
JONES MAKING PLAYS: With the Titans selecting three wide receivers in April’s NFL Draft and recently bringing in veteran Eric Moulds, much of the attention has shifted away from Brandon Jones, last year’s TD receptions leader (4), who posted career highs in receptions (27) and receiving yards (384).
During Sunday’s afternoon practice, the spotlight was back on the former third-round pick as he caught a 50-yard bomb over two defenders from QB Vince Young that had Jones raising his arms in excitement much to delight of the fans.
“Vince and I are trying to keep up the same thing that we had going in OTAs and all summer long,” Jones said after practice. “We wanted to come into camp and not start over, but rather continue from where we left off. We’re trying to stay on the same page with one another.”
Head coach Jeff Fisher likes what he sees. “Brandon Jones is making some plays and that is good to see,” he said.
As for all of the analysts talking about how poor the Titans receiving corps is in 2007, Jones said hearing that only adds motivation to the entire unit this season.
“Those people give us strength and encouragement to go out there and perform better because we feed off of that,” he said. “Hearing things like that makes you want to go out there and work even harder.”
LOWRY GAINING GROUND: Second-year safety Calvin Lowry is in a heated battle with veteran Lamont Thompson for the starting spot at free safety. Lowry, a fourth-round pick in 2006, has been making the most of his opportunities so far in camp.
“I’m 100 percent more confident than I was a year ago. I know the playbook better and now it’s more about making plays than guessing,” Lowry said. “I had aspirations of starting last year, but I was a rookie and it didn’t happen. But this year I’ve worked hard in the off-season and during OTA’s. All I can ask for is a shot, and I’m getting that shot this year.”
COLT CONNECTION: During the morning practice, former Colts Nick Harper and David Thornton combined to have a little fun following an interception. After Harper picked off a pass, he ran several yards, then lateraled to Thornton for a would-be touchdown. Both players celebrated, with Thornton holding the ball high over his head.
Story Courtesy: The Tennessee Titans