Camp primer: what to watch for as Titans training ramps up

Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 11:06pm

There is no way to know for certain how the Tennessee Titans will do this season given that this effectively is the first full season under coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

Fans can begin to form their opinions during training camp, though, and with that in mind The City Paper offers the following training camp primer of things to consider and people and things to watch for those who attend one or more of the 13 workouts that are open to the public.

The big question

Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker?

It will be the leading issue for virtually everyone from the moment camp opens until a decision is announced sometime prior to the start of the regular season.

For many, there is not a wrong answer. The similarities between the two in terms of professionalism and last season’s performance, even though Locker’s body of work was much smaller, make it feel as though the stakes are not that high for anyone other than those two.

That does not mean the competition won’t be interesting or compelling. As such, it gives fans attending workouts something to watch.

Most won’t be able to discern differences between the two the way the coaches will, but it will be clear to anyone who pays attention that plays are called differently for each. Specifically, Locker is asked to make a lot of throws while on the run. Hasselbeck stays in the pocket almost all the time.

Watch for the plays that are exclusive to each, see how well they execute in those moments, and you might get a sense for who has a leg up at that particular moment.

The next step?

The issue of whether or not Chris Johnson has lost a step first was raised, although not seriously, in 2010, the year after he rushed for 2,006 yards. It gained a lot of momentum last season when the running back struggled to make yards for much of the season.

In training camp workouts, he will have room to run. This is an opportunity for fans to decide for themselves, therefore, whether he still looks fast even in the midst of a group of world-class athletes or if he looks like someone who no longer has the burst that made him a highlight waiting to happen every time he touched the ball three years ago.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that he makes it look easy. He is still a graceful runner, after all. Measure him against the linebackers and defensive back and see if you think another 2,000-yard season is really a possibility.

Practice schedule

The following training camp practices are open to the public (all workouts at the team’s MetroCenter training facility unless otherwise noted):

July 29: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

July 30: 3 – 5 p.m.

July 31: 3:45 – 5:45 p.m.

Aug. 2: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Aug. 3: 3 – 5 p.m.

Aug. 6: 4:30 – 7 p.m. (EDT), joint session with Falcons
at Dalton, Ga.

Aug. 7: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Aug. 8: 3 – 5 p.m.

Aug. 9: 3:15 – 5:15 p.m.

Aug. 13: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Aug. 14: 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Aug. 15: 3:15 – 5:15 p.m.

Aug. 19: 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Notable newcomers

Steve Hutchinson, guard: There were a lot of questions about the performance of the offensive line a year ago. One way or another this 34-year-old, who is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro, will provide some answers.

Typically, offensive linemen are not the most fun to watch, but Hutchinson moves quickly from one drill to the next and sets a pace throughout the workout that others will work to match.

Kamerion Wimbley, defensive end: Playing for his third team in four years, the 28-yer-old is viewed as a solution to the pass rush woes that were so apparent a year ago. The hope is that he follows in the footsteps of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jason Babin and plays better here than he has elsewhere.

Given that he has spent much of his pro career as an outside linebacker in 3-4 schemes, fans might be surprised when they see him at how big he is.

Kendall Wright, wide receiver: The first-round draft pick out of Baylor is viewed as someone with legitimate big-play ability.

It’s the little things he does that make him stand out among the rest of the rookie receivers, though. Typically, it is all first-year players can do to run the correct route, but it is worth watching Wright to see the way he catches the ball with his hands and manages to get his feet down along the sidelines.

Worth noting

• Those who say the preseason is meaningless have not paid enough attention to the Titans in recent season.

Four times in the past five years, the Titans’ result in the regular-season opener has been the opposite of that of the preseason opener. Last year, for example, Tennessee started the preseason with a 14-3 win against Minnesota but lost 16-14 to Jacksonville in the first one that counted. In 2010, the preseason started with a 20-18 loss at Seattle, but the regular season began with a 38-13 rout of Oakland.

In other words, the Aug. 11 game at Seattle figures to be a pretty good indicator of what is to come Sept. 9 against New England.

• The Titans and Atlanta Falcons will hold a joint workout Aug. 6 in Dalton, Ga.

The last time the teams met halfway — or close to it — during training camp was in 1997, when they held a controlled scrimmage at Chattanooga. Within two years, both teams made it to the Super Bowl, although both lost in the big game.