NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans coaches are putting players through stress tests during this week's minicamp.
The players aren't in pads, and tackling is still prohibited, but coaches tried to create game-like situations to evaluate the players' grasps of the offensive and defensive systems that have been installed over the past nine weeks during organized team activities. The OTAs were voluntary, but attendance has been near perfect, and coach Mike Munchak was pleased enough with the productivity that he only added about 15 minutes on the field to the minicamp practices.
"We added more reps to each period because we've installed a lot of our offense and defense," Munchak said. "Now, it's more of a review, more team drills, more moving the ball, more game-like situations where they have to be on first, second and third down where anything can happen. So I think it's more of a test of where these guys are at, as far as understanding everything you put in."
The minicamp opened Tuesday and concludes Thursday. It is the last time for the team to be together in organized activity until training camp officially opens July 27. Titans coaches had the option of holding a walk-through practice and one with helmets each day of the camp, but opted for just the helmeted practices this week.
"It's more reviewing — not reviewing but under pressure reviewing — like (Tuesday) we had a bunch of move the ball periods where they might have eight to 10 snaps with each group with the coaches on the sidelines calling the plays over the headsets, so (offensive coordinator) Chris (Palmer) wasn't right there with them. You try to make it more game-like with these last three practices. Not really install a lot more, just get better at dealing with all the situations that come up in a game."
Receiver Nate Washington said this week's work will help increase mental toughness and development of a determined attitude for offensive and defensive players.
"There's no tackling and there's no real contact at this point, so when it comes to fourth and 4, trying to make sure (the defense) stops us short or make sure we're getting an extra push from our offensive line," Washington said. "I think it's really a mentality, making sure our offensive line is getting their fits, making sure that our backs see the cuts and gaps they need to hit, making sure our receivers get to the position that they need to get to and vice-versa for our defense — making sure they would have been there to make the tackle, making sure our defensive line is in the gaps that they need to be in and making sure our (defensive backs) are in the right position. It's a mental thing — that's what the spring is for."
Cornerback Jason McCourty said the situations have provided good tests, even though they require discipline by defenders to refrain from doing everything they can to break up passes.
"It's tough, especially for us little guys, cause we're always around the knees and ankles (of receivers)," McCourty said. "It's definitely tough when that ball is in the air. You want to compete, you want to go after it, you want to work on intercepting, but you also don't want to get your teammates hurt. It's tough to simulate, but you've just got to try and play smart.
"If you're right there when the ball is in the air, we know you're going to hit that guy, so you don't need to, but you do want to put yourself in the position and be ready to make that play so when it does come across, you want to make it in the game," McCourty continued.
Veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon, who is preparing for his 11th NFL season, said minicamp practices are "a little more amped up" than OTA practices because all of the installation has taken place and players on both sides of the ball can play faster. He said this week is important in setting a tone for the brief break and next month's return to football.
"You want to finish strong," Witherspoon said. "This is that critical point where the young guys get more opportunities on the field to really execute their plays and exercise all their talents out there before camp and see more of a game-time situation. For all of us, it's an opportunity to get on the same page."
Munchak and his staff have focused on adding competition at every position this offseason. He said it's been important to get all 90 players quality repetitions to help the eventually evaluations when the Titans must announce their 53-man roster before the season starts.
"We've been able to get reps for everybody," Munchak said. "It's not just the first two groups. We've been getting all three groups a lot of work out here, which has been very good for us to evaluate and for the players to feel like they're getting a feel for what we're asking of them. Yeah, we're getting exactly what we hoped we get. It's just a matter now of finishing up strong tomorrow, keeping everyone healthy, coming back and going to work in late July."