Fights are not uncommon in NFL training camps. But they don’t usually involve the franchise quarterback throwing the first punch.
Titans quarterback Vince Young took a swipe at safety Donnie Nickey during Wednesday afternoon’s practice, objecting to the second of two strong hits Nickey had dished out on back-to-back plays.
The hit Young objected to was a choke hold tackle by Nickey on receiver Courtney Roby, who fumbled on the play. Roby was down for several minutes even while the skirmish was going on.
An enraged Young, who threw the pass, came at Nickey and screamed, “Donnie, what the hell are you doing? Quit that [expletive]. The ball was out.”
Center Kevin Mawae tried to keep Young away from Nickey, but as Young got closer to Nickey and was still screaming, Nickey put his hand on Young’s chest. The quarterback then took a swing at Nickey. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said the swing missed, but a TV replay appeared to show Young’s right hand making contact with the left side of Nickey’s helmet.
The players were eventually separated, but at the end, tight end Bo Scaife took a slap at Nickey as players and coaches were attempting to restore order. Defensive backs Chuck Cecil escorted Nickey away from the fray. Young, still angered, was on one of the other practice fields cooling off, even while Fisher called the players up to diffuse the situation and restart practice.
Roby eventually returned to finish practice, but the recipient of Nickey’s first hard hit, receiver Joel Filani, did not return after taking what appeared to be a jolt that addled him.
Later, after practice was over, Fisher called Young, Nickey and Roby together. Nickey offered an apology to Roby and they shook hands, then Young hugged Nickey. The three players then stood before the media, while Fisher and Young addressed the issue.
Players involved in training camp scuffles are usually fined for such.
Nickey said he wasn’t about to back down from the star quarterback, especially in the heat of the moment.
“If somebody comes at me, I’m not going to back down. I don't care if it’s Vince, or President Bush. That’s just instincts that come out. But I respect him for it. I didn’t want that to happen. I think it’s over. We put it to bed,” Nickey said.
Nickey took responsibility for being too aggressive in drill with only shoulder pads.
“If it was on Sunday, it’s a great play, a forced fumble,” Nickey said. “But against my own teammates, you can’t do that. You can’t hurt [your] own teammates. I’m going to pull off when I can, but at that moment I couldn’t. I apologized. I realized it wasn’t clean. It wasn’t the right thing to do.”
The other thing that wasn’t right about the play, and potentially of more concern to the Titans was the fact that Young risked injury to his throwing hand by throwing a punch, especially with Nickey wearing a helmet.
“My preference is not to see my quarterback throwing punches with his throwing hand,” Fisher said. “Secondly, we need to avoid this stuff on the field, but it happens.”
Said Young, “That’s bad. That’s real bad.”
Young also said he apologized to Nickey for the incident, but even some of them had to admit they liked the quarterback’s spunk, even if they didn’t like the action.
“I’ve been with some spirited quarterbacks in my time,” Mawae said. “And I think Vince is a feisty guy, and he’s trying to take care of his team and his players. But it’s training camp, and that’s what happens. Things like that happen in training camp.
“You don’t want your quarterback getting into anything, because you don’t want him getting hurt. Whether somebody throws a punch at him, or he throws a punch at somebody else, the last thing you need is that right hand to get hurt.”
Roby said his neck was fine, and that he appreciated Young defending him.
“It was just a little twist of the neck. It’s nothing major; I’ll be all right,” Roby said. “We’re all one big family. I would do the same for [Vince]. And I’m sure that if another team came in here and we were scrimmage, that Donnie would stick up for me. We’re one family.”
But as Young pointed out, all family sometimes squabble.
“We’re still a family, and families have fights too,” Young said.
It is the second time in as many seasons Nickey has found himself in the middle of a melee. Last year, he went after LenDale White, sparking a heated brawl after White had spit on him.
Nickey’s other hit that sidelined Filani apparently came because the rookie ran the wrong route, a post against a post defense.
“The first one was clean. I mean you’re not supposed to throw a post in the post-defense,” Nickey said.
Fisher agreed, saying, “Donnie had a collision earlier with Joel. It happens. The ball was thrown high, somebody ran the wrong route and there was a collision. Under normal circumstances and had the first collision not happened, I don’t think [the scuffle] would have happened.”