NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans' first practice of training camp Saturday featured less kicking of the tires and more pressing of the accelerator than a year ago.
Instead of introducing a mostly new coaching staff to players and handing out new playbooks, second-year head coach Mike Munchak was able test players on what they learned during voluntary organized team activity practices this spring and retained during their break.
Munchak and players said they were pleased with the pace of the practice and how they continued to build on their efforts in the spring.
"I think we did so much more," Munchak said. "The scripts were so basic a year ago. We didn't have any motions or movement on both sides of the ball. We didn't have any adjustments going on. So today, already, we had check plays on both pass and run, shifts and motions. We are already doing them from day one. So those are the things you have to work on from day one if you want to be good at them. It seems like it should be easy to move people around but it's not; the timing of your motion is critical. With your quarterback you are used to seeing coverage changes when you shift people. Last year we couldn't work on that until later on in training camp."
Rookies, first-year Titans and quarterbacks reported earlier in the week and were joined by veterans at Baptist Sports Park Friday for a series of meetings and a conditioning test. The Titans held two practice sessions Saturday, a walk-through early and a practice without pads in the afternoon. The team's practice session that is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday is open and free for the public to attend.
Second-year quarterback Jake Locker said the additional year and full offseason with the coaches made a big difference.
"You're so much more familiar with what we're doing," Locker said. "Coming in last year, we didn't know what to expect. We couldn't have a playbook, so we didn't know what we were running, we didn't know what the schedule would look like. We didn't know how long we'd be in camp, when we'd break. We didn't know any of that.
"So I think for us, especially the guys that were rookies last year, it's a lot different dynamic this year because we were able to have OTAs," Locker continued. "We were able to have a full offseason where we could get familiar with not only the playbook, but the coaching staff, the coaching style, what they want out of certain plays, what we're trying to achieve within our offense or defense, and I think that's helpful as a player."
The increases in familiarity with the offensive and defensive schemes and between the players allowed the Titans to practice fast and make quick adjustments and rapid transitions.
"We really pushed the tempo today," Locker said. "Our 40-second clock was turning over really quick, and I think that's one of the things that will be an emphasis for us. I think the coaches will want us to push the tempo even a little bit more."
Locker, who begins this training camp in competition for the starting job with 14-year NFL veteran Matt Hasselbeck, took the first snap of 7-on-7 passing drills Saturday and threw toward Nate Washington, who had 74 catches and 1,023 yards to lead the Titans in 2011. Washington was covered, however, and the ball went over the receiver and into the hands of safety Michael Griffin.
"Got to get the bad (throws) out of the way," Locker told reporters with a laugh.
Munchak said the young QB was just trying to make a play and that it was a "great start" for Griffin, who signed a five-year contract extension this offseason.
"Looking at it that way, he made a big play," Munchak said. "We signed him to big contract and we expect big plays and there you go. He made one. That is the beauty of being the head coach: you can jump sides. It was a positive, and I think Jake was trying to help him out."
Washington said the first practice was much more difficult a year ago, and he thought the Titans resumed close to where they were at the end of OTAs, but still have things to improve in training camp.
"It was day one last year, literally, for us — our first time meeting the coaches that you've never seen, our first time seeing an offensive playbook that you've never touched," Washington said. "This spring that we had this year is helping a lot of guys, making sure that they're mentally ready. We have to make sure that we're doing everything that's asked of us."
Left tackle Michael Roos said practicing faster is another method of increasing fitness and readiness for games.
"I think it's another way of getting conditioning and getting used to it," Roos said. "It's hot out here, but the better conditioned you can be going into the season, the better you'll last."
Tight end Jared Cook said Saturday's practice "had a lot more speed" than the 2011 first practice.
"Everybody knows each other now," Cook said. "It's kind of like we're hitting the ground running. There's no new material to learn. We know all of it. It's up-tempo, and it's only going to increase. It helps everybody on the offensive side and also the defensive side of the ball to move a lot further in your playbook and get a lot more things done. You can practice a lot more different things."
Cook, who is preparing for his fourth season, is looking to continue his hot finish to 2011 when he had 21 catches for 335 yards in the last three games of the season.
"I just want this whole offense to come out and have fun and put numbers up," Cook said. "That's what football is about. It's about camaraderie, knowing your assignments, doing the right things, having fun and winning games. That's what I'm here to help everybody do."
CJ BENEFITTING FROM OFFSEASON WORK: Titans running back Chris Johnson was an active participant and leader in the voluntary workouts this offseason and said he can tell a difference from a year ago.
Johnson bulked up this offseason, going from 191 pounds to nearly 200, but said he lost a couple of those Saturday.
"It was pretty tough — long day, lot of plays, kind of hot, but it was a pretty good day," Johnson said. "I feel much better on my first day of camp than I did on my first game of the year last year."
Johnson, who held out during the 2011 training camp until he received a new contract, rushed for 24 yards on nine carries in the Titans' 2011 season opener. He rallied late in the season to post his fourth season with more than 1,000 rushing yards in as many opportunities, but he wants to do more this year and thinks he will in the second year in offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's scheme.
IMPORTANT PROCESS:** Training camp is a job interview for some players each year.
Washington and Roos already have their roster spots sewn up but said they see merits in the intense stage that is necessary before the start of the season.
Washington experienced cramping late in the practice but rehydrated and returned to make a nice catch over the middle as practice waned.
"I wish I could fast forward (through training camp), but it's a good time," Washington said. "It's time that the football team needs together to make sure we're all on the same page and we're all mentally here, focused on the same thing: to make the playoffs and hopefully get to the Super Bowl. I think a lot of guys are focused on their task at hand. Those things help you get through the mental aspect of the pain, the cramps and the hurt body. Relying on the guy next to you always makes you feel better."
Added Roos: "Training camp is a grind every year, but everybody has to do it, so it's a matter of how you want to look at it and your attitude going into it, so it's a chance to improve on things and get ready for the season."
PROUD PAPA: Locker became a first-time father during the break on July 17 when his wife Lauren gave birth to their daughter Colbie Jo.
Locker, who grew up in Washington about 10 minutes south of the U.S. border with Canada, said the couple wanted to give their daughter a southern name because she was born in the South.
"It's awesome. If my wife and daughter are watching, 'Hi guys,' Locker told the media. "It's really kind of unexplainable, what you go through when she was born, just how proud I am of my wife for going through the things she has and being able to bring our child into this world. It's something that is truly a blessing. It's a miracle, and I'm very thankful to have my daughter in our lives now. For me, I don't think it will be a distraction at all. If anything, it will be more motivation to go out, be successful and be able to provide for her."