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Camp Notebook: Veterans Look to Lead by Example

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The clock shifted from 12:59 to 1 p.m.

That transfer of one minute marked the intersection of what the Titans think they can do and what they will do in 2012.

Players and coaches filed into the auditorium of Baptist Sports Park for a team-wide meeting. They walked past words that Mike Munchak installed in his first year as Titans head coach: "Be a pro … Know what to do and do it."

That philosophy is increasing its reverberations like a stone across a pond throughout the facility and team. Similar words now appear on walls between the Titans' locker room and practice fields, and players plan to use that approach in training camp and this season.

Two days shy of his one-year anniversary of signing with the Titans, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on Friday recalled the first time Munchak expressed that philosophy last offseason during a phone call to talk about the veteran free agent potentially joining the Titans.

"My conversation when he called me and tried to recruit me, if you will, was 'Hey, we're just looking for guys that are pros. Guys that are going to come in here, do their job, be accountable, be dependable. That's all we're looking for,' " recalled Hasselbeck, who is preparing for his 14th season.

"It's a similar philosophy as to what I believe in," Hasselbeck continued. "In 2004, in Seattle, we had a really talented team with a ton of potential. We kind of gave up on the potential people and in '05 we moved to guys that were just pros — mostly veterans, some rookies, but they were just professional about their job. We became a much better team that year. It's pretty simple, but it doesn't get done all the time."

Cornerback Jason McCourty also took reporters' questions Friday before the team meeting. McCourty, preparing for his fourth year, is the Titans' most-experienced cornerback and is expected to shoulder an increased leadership role among the defensive backs.

"I put (it on) myself to lead by example," McCourty said. "That's taking care of your body, making sure you're taking coaching well and you're going out on the field and exemplifying what it means to be a pro."

The Titans went through a conditioning test and additional meetings Friday afternoon and have their first practice Saturday afternoon. The first of 13 practices that are free and open for fans to attend is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

COMPETITIVE CAMP: The Titans placed significant emphasis this offseason on increasing competition at every position.

While some players are competing for spots, others are competing for starting jobs. The most conspicuous competition through training camp will be between Hasselbeck and second-year pro and 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker.

Hasselbeck, the Titans' most experienced player, started all 16 games last season. He joined Warren Moon as the only two players in Titans/Oilers franchise history to throw for more than 3,500 yards, and helped multiple receivers post career highs.

Locker played significant minutes in three games that Hasselbeck left early because of injuries last season. Locker showed potential in those contests, and Munchak said the competition for the starting job would be open this season. Locker and Hasselbeck have handled the competition as friends and professionals — working together, but each trying to be his best.

Munchak said the experience he gained in practices last year and the benefit of having a full offseason to work with and evaluate players will help Titans coaches conduct detailed evaluations. Munchak said he wants all 88 players currently on the roster to feel like they've had the opportunity to make one of 53 spots on the team.

"We have a good feel for where we're at and what we can get better at, so now I can concentrate more on that as I watch practice," Munchak said. "I know what role I'll take at practice. Last year, we had to spend a lot of time on real basic stuff because our players and coaches had never met, so a lot of our periods were really a lot of teaching.

"We feel light years ahead of where we were last year as far as our feel for the team and what we have, where the competition is and how hard you can push them," Munchak continued.

The evaluations will include on-field observations, film study and other factors, but decisions will always be based ultimately on what is best for the team, Munchak said.

"You're out there watching body language, you're watching how they react with the receivers, with the running backs, the little coaching points they give each other, how they take coaching," Munchak said. You're kind of taking it all in on the field. You can see things on the field obviously you cannot see on film. That's the type of stuff…the interactions, how they respond to each other, how they respond after maybe a couple of bad plays, how they take the coaching. Those are the things you see on the field—the body language. Now on the film you can study more of what he did see, why did he throw that ball there, what's his technique like, would he have ran here, you start looking at those things, maybe why did you make that throw. You were watching this and keeping track so he was 8 for 15 but maybe it was because he had pressure, but you can't see all that until you actually watch the tape. You watch both, and they both can help you make the decision."

GATHERING FACTS: Munchak made his first comments Friday since the July 20 arrest of Titans receiver Kenny Britt on driving under the influence and implied consent charges at Fort Campbell and said the team is in the process of gathering all the facts.

Munchak said the Titans have been in communication with NFL representatives regarding the next course of action.

"He is aware that we are very disappointed in his involvement in this recent situation," Munchak said. "The league has a policy in place that addresses player conduct. We've been in contact with the league. When any issue comes up, obviously the league is in contact with you immediately. So now we're still gathering facts of exactly what did happen, what all the information is. With the league we'll decide where we go from there. That's kind of the position we're in.

"He's put himself in a position where something could look worse than it really was," Munchak continued. "Until we know everything, I'm not going to judge on what someone tweeted or what came out or where we're at. Like I said, we're working with this with the league. Again, we're disappointed, and at some point, if something needs to be done, we'll explain what we're doing and why. But we're at this point, and we have to continue to, like I said, get the information that's out there."

Britt began 2011 at a torrid pace with 14 catches for an AFC-best 271 yards and two touchdowns in two games, but tore his right ACL and MCL in Week 3. He underwent surgery last fall and began the rehabilitation process, but underwent arthroscopic surgery on it in May and underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in June.

"It's been unfortunate in the 12 months that I've been here that we haven't had a lot of time to work together," Hasselbeck said, "but at the same time, there's a bunch of guys that have been working hard and are ready to go. Kenny just has to do his thing with the trainers and the training room and he'll be ready to go at some point, and we'll just accept that when he comes."

NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE: The Titans are still in the process of negotiating a contract with receiver Kendall Wright, the No. 20 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Wright, the Titans' only unsigned draft pick, did not report to camp Friday but did participate in voluntary organized team activity practices this spring. 

Titans coaches and teammates were pleased with what Wright did in those practices and are confident that a deal will be reached.

"No one is pressing the panic button necessarily because he's not here, but he looked great," Hasselbeck said. "Sometimes you draft a guy in the first round and he gets there and you wonder why they did that, but that was completely the opposite. He came in and looked phenomenal, and I think we were wondering why he didn't go earlier. He was really impressive."

FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR: Munchak opened his press conference and 30th NFL camp as a player or coach by declaring Friday "his favorite day in football."

Munchak said he enjoys the day that players report so much because of the "excitement of what's going to happen, the nervousness of getting started" and the expectations. He added that the first 10 days of a training camp are so enjoyable because they "are about technique and getting used to your pads again and getting used to the plays and getting after it a little bit, getting physical, the camaraderie with your teammates. This is the only window you have where you're not preparing for a game."

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