Competitiveness of Titans practices spills beyond schedule work

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:57pm

Frank Walker has learned at least one thing in eight NFL seasons, which includes time spent with four different franchises.

“If you can cover, you can cover,” he said. “I can cover.”

Tuesday, he nearly was forced to cover a wager.

The veteran cornerback engaged in a match race with free agent rookie Lequan Lewis following the Tennessee Titans workout Tuesday. At the urging of a handful of teammates and with the blessing of coach Mike Munchak, the two attempted to settle the issue of who could run 40 yards the fastest.

When the first heat proved inconclusive, they ran again. The second time, Walker got off the line much quicker and easily crossed the finish first.

“On the second one I had to show these boys where I’m from,” Walker said. “I’m from a little town called Tuskeegee, Alabama — you know, back woods, dirt roads, ‘the sticks’ and stuff.

“[It’s] all in great fun. We love each other. This is a very close-knit team. Guys have great camaraderie.”

The whole thing, recorded by several players on their iPads, was telling about the current state of the Titans, who conclude the preseason on Thursday (7 p.m. at New Orleans) and open the regular season Sept. 11 at Jacksonville.

Workouts generally are much more competitive than they have been in recent seasons. In this one, the competitiveness carried beyond just the actual practice session itself.

“We just have a competitive group,” Munchak said. “You could see they had a great workout and they were still excited to do some more. It’s fun to see. … When you challenge someone, you can see how competitive they are. I think it’s probably good for them.”

The competitive juices continued to flow when all parties retreated to the locker room. As Walker dressed following his shower numerous teammates, including offensive and defensive linemen (the big men negotiated handicaps), playfully threw down the gauntlet on their own.

“Guys know that there are position battles out here,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “If you want to play and you want to make this team, you have to go out there and compete every day. So when you get that type of competition and guys battling, it’s going to make for a better team.

“… You know, Frank’s an old man trying to out-hustle the young rook. So we convinced him to go in there and take that bet.”

Walker’s willingness was fueled by the fact that he takes the issue of speed rather seriously.

At 31, he is the oldest — by five years — of the eight cornerbacks currently on the active roster. Cortland Finnegan is the only other one of the bunch with more than two years of NFL experience.

The New York Giants originally drafted Walker in the sixth round in 2003 and he spent the first four years of his career with that franchise. The last four years he has played with — in order — Green Bay, Baltimore (two years) and Minnesota.

Every offseason, though, he has retreated to a high-performance training center in Atlanta where he works out with other current and former NFL players.

“When I go back in the offseason I do straight speed work, nothing else,” he said. “In the offseason that’s all I do is work speed.”

He said he was timed during the lockout at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The 22-year-old Lewis’ time at his pro day at Arizona State University, where he played wide receiver in 2009 and cornerback last fall, was exactly the same: 4.38.

Their race did not effectively settle the issue of who is faster.

Walker, though, has no doubt that he proved long ago with his eight career interceptions — including one each of the last three years — his 126 career tackles and his 93 games played that he can play in the NFL. And it is not just because he can run fast.

“If you can play, you can play no matter how old you are or how young you are,” he said. “Covering is hard.”