There was no X-ray machine nearby, but the looks on the faces of Kenny Britt and Colin McCarthy offered a fairly reliable look into what was happening in their respective ankles.
Britt was all smiles Tuesday afternoon after he took part in all phases of the Tennessee Titans’ workout as they prepared for Thursday’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers (7:20 p.m., LP Field, NFL Network).
“It didn’t really bother me too much [Tuesday],” he said. “It loosened up. I was out there running and it didn’t really bother me so I’m happy about it.”
McCarthy watched practice for the second straight day and his look was much less effusive.
“It feels weird,” he said. “It just feels different. That’s all I can really say.”
It would be an overstatement to say that the Titans’ struggles through the first five weeks of this season are the result of the injuries to Britt and McCarthy. It is clear, though, that those things have not helped.
When at their best, the wide receiver and middle linebacker offer big-play ability to the offense and defense, respectively.
“It’s frustrating,” McCarthy said. “Coming into this year having high expectations, our defense playing as well as we did during the preseason for us to let up as many points as we are, not doing what we want as a defense and me, personally, having to deal with this … it’s not the way I wanted it to go.”
He was the NFL’s leader in interceptions during the preseason after he recorded two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception during his rookie season. He sustained a high ankle sprain in his right leg during the season-opening loss to New England and missed the next three weeks.
Britt can relate.
He was one of the NFL’s most productive receivers though the first two weeks of last season before a serious knee injury started him on a path that included three surgeries and the subsequent sprain to his left ankle early this season.
Sunday’s 30-7 loss at Minnesota was the first time each played the same game, which was a positive step even if it had little impact on the scoreboard.
Despite the differences in their preparation this week, each is expected in uniform again Thursday. Britt was held out of practice Monday but went full speed on Tuesday. McCarthy was one of four Titans, including quarterback Jake Locker, who did nothing either of the two days.
Coach Mike Munchak said trainers want McCarthy, who made six tackles against the Vikings, to rest as much as possible prior to the game.
“It doesn’t feel 100 percent, I know that,” McCarthy said. “I just have to deal with the pain. With a short turnaround, it’s just trying to get it back to where it feels good enough so I can help the team out on the field.”
Britt sat out the opener due to a league suspension, played each of the next two weeks before the ankle forced him to miss the Week 4 loss at Houston. He was severely limited in practice all last week but still managed to get on the field and make two catches against the Vikings.
“It always starts with that week of practice and how you feel during that week,” Britt said. “If you feel like nothing’s going to happen then that’s your mindset and you’re going to bring that into the game.
“[Tuesday], I felt great and hopefully I’m going to feel great Thursday night.”
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who will make his second straight start in place of Locker, was not prepared to predict an offensive breakout — Tennessee currently is 26th in total offense, 16th in passing offense — based on Britt’s status. He made it clear, though, that it wouldn’t hurt to have such a target at 100 percent.
“I’ve got a great confidence level in him,” Hasselbeck said. “Obviously, last year I did with no offseason. He’s coming off a few injuries. So it’s not just my confidence in him. It’s his own confidence in himself. I think that’s probably bigger than anything — feeling like he’s in a rhythm, a groove and a zone.
“You get in a rhythm, you get confidence in yourself because of preparation and the things you’ve done.”
Even with the short week, Britt — for one — can say he did more to prepare for this game than any other in recent weeks.
“[Tuesday] I felt the most confident I have in this whole season — with my eyes, I was finding the ball when [Hasselbeck] was throwing it … coming over the big linemen.
“I’m definitely getting back to where I was last year.”
That’s something the Titans would love to see.