Like every other NFL player, the men of the Tennessee Titans are locked out, prohibited from setting foot on team property and interacting with any coaches or personnel.
Given what preceded the NFL owners’ decision to kick the players to the curb — namely the departure of longtime head coach Jeff Fisher and the decision to part ways (eventually) with quarterback Vince Young — the Titans believe they could not be in a worse spot.
“It’s getting to a point where it’s not the business or ethics side of it anymore,” wide receiver Nate Washington said. “This is one of the most physical sports out there. Now — with a new coaching staff and possibly a rookie quarterback — you’re going to send us on the field to bump full-speed bodies against each other with a new team? We don’t even know each other.
“We need time to get together. Now it’s going beyond the money. If you’re going to give us just a month, how are you going to send us out there?”
Now that it’s the middle of June, it’s all but guaranteed that teams will not have any sort of minicamps in preparation for the season (see related story below). Typically those take place in April, May and June, and are spread out over two weeks at a time. The best anyone can hope for in that case is a full training camp, which would require teams to be open for business and ready to go in a little more than a month.
Tennessee players took matters into their own hands last week, when a majority of them got together for two days of collective workouts at Father Ryan High School.
Many said they were encouraged by the number of players who took part but conceded that there was a limit to how much they accomplished, particularly given the fact that Fisher’s replacement, Mike Munchak, has retooled virtually the entire coaching staff and promised changes to the schemes, changes to which the players have not yet been exposed.
Rookie quarterback Jake Locker was not far behind the other two who took part: Rusty Smith, a rookie in 2010, and Brett Ratliff, who has been with two other franchises over the previous three seasons but never has thrown a pass in a regular season game.
“We’re not allowed to talk to coaches, and nobody really has a playbook, so we don’t know the full terminology,” running back Javon Ringer said. “Right now, we’re just making sure everybody’s lined up right.”
That leaves a lot to get done before the start of the regular season, which is scheduled for Sept. 11, fewer than three months from now.
“It’s going to be tough, especially because we really haven’t had any coaching,” defensive end Dave Ball said. “We had one day to kind of basically get an overview of what kind of defense we were going to be playing. That’s basically it.”
The Titans haven’t cornered the market on uncertainty. Six other franchises replaced their head coaches either during or after the 2010 season. The majority of those, as was the case with Munchak, were promoted from the previous staff.
Minnesota, which turned to former defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, also has two new assistants and is in need of a quarterback following the retirement of Brett Favre. Carolina brought in Ron Rivera and then drafted quarterback Cam Newton first overall.
Three of the last four times owner Bud Adams changed coaches, he did so by firing one before the end of a regular season. In two of those three cases, the interim replacement ultimately got the job full time the next season.
One was Fisher, who went 7-9 in 1995 after having gone 1-5 in the final five games of 1994. Jerry Glanville set the stage for his tenure when he took over for the final two games of 1985 and then went 5-11 in his first full season.
Munchak was promoted in early February, just over a month before the start of the lockout. It took him more than three weeks to fill out his staff, which left him virtually no time to deal with the players.
“We’re going to go out there with a month of preparation and play one of the most physical games?” Washington said. “At some point, the business has to go to the side, and they have to look at protecting us.
“It’s getting frustrating, but at the same time I think it’s understood that it’s necessary.”
The challenge of working out while locked out is more than one of location. It’s a matter of motivation as well.
“It gets harder as the days and weeks go on, just because it gets frustrating,” defensive end Dave Ball said. “It’s like waiting for a Christmas that keeps getting moved back.”
At this time of year, NFL players typically are near the end of their offseason training programs. Most have spent weeks by now at their respective facilities engaged in sport-specific training under the guidance of their respective strength and conditioning coaches.
With locker rooms, weight rooms and everything else off limits since the owners enacted their lockout in March, every one of those players has sought alternative means to maintain or even improve their conditioning. In the case of the Tennessee Titans, some have spent a lot of time — and money — working with personal trainers at high-performance institutes. Others have simply gone to the YMCA.
Linebacker Gerald McRath is among the latter. He said he typically spends nine hours a day at the Titans’ facility during the spring and summer. Thus, recent weeks have been a significant adjustment for the third-year linebacker.
“I don’t have a problem, but a guy like [Chris Johnson], I could imagine he couldn’t work out at the Y like I can work out at the Y,” McRath said. “It’s hard for him to find places to go to work out where people would leave him alone.”
One thing for which there is no substitute is the training room, where players have a staff of medical personnel and all the modern amenities needed to ease the aches and pains that accompany elite athletes’ efforts to maintain their bodies, including some things that typically are somewhat unpleasant.
“I know I speak for everybody else — we’re missing the cold tubs,” McRath said. “We miss the cold tubs more than anything.”