Munchak Knows Team; Hasselbeck Trains Locker


Veteran Matt Hasselbeck (8) will help train rookie Jake Locker (10) in the first season for both quarterbacks in Tennessee.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are enjoying their fresh start very much in the post-Vince Young and Jeff Fisher era.

Gone are the drama and distractions along with the quarterback and coach after a 5-2 start disintegrated into a 6-10 collapse in 2010. That led to the decision to release Young three weeks before the team parted with Fisher, the only head coach this franchise had known since his promotion in November 1994 while the team was still the Houston Oilers.

Mike Munchak may be the new head coach, but he's been with the franchise since being drafted by the Oilers in 1982.

Owner Bud Adams stayed in-house for his new coach, promoting Munchak from offensive line assistant and choosing a man who has been with the team since 1982, when the Oilers drafted him in the first round out of Penn State. And Munchak wants to win now.

"The beauty of the NFL is you can go from 6-10 like we did last year to winning it all, so why not us?" Munchak said.

Munchak surrounded himself with a mix of assistants, including his former Oilers teammate Jerry Gray as his defensive coordinator and the experienced Chris Palmer to oversee the offense. The Titans restocked at quarterback first by drafting Jake Locker out of Washington at No. 8 overall, then signing veteran Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year contract.

"In my mind, there's a great running game, great offensive line, good pass call, talented wide receivers, great running back, good defense," Hasselbeck said of his decision to come to Tennessee. "I mean it's perfect."

Adams, who turns 89 in January, didn't stop spending money there.

The Titans loaded up on defenders in the draft led by linebacker Akeem Ayers out of UCLA. Once the lockout ended, they signed veteran tackle Shaun Smith and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, while adding experience in the secondary with safeties Jordan Babineaux and Anthony Smith, and cornerback Frank Walker.

Those moves are meant to improve a defense that ranked 26th in total yards allowed per game in 2010 and 29th against the pass.

They also added veteran tight end Daniel Graham along with linemen Adam Terry and Pat McQuistan. Graham said he chose the Titans because he sees plenty of talent and potential despite the fact Munchak was the eighth and final head coach hired for this season.

"It's been a crazy offseason, but it's nothing we can do about it," Graham said. "A lot of people are in the same spot. We just have to adapt and keep it going."

The Titans' lone problem -- hardly a small one -- was ending Chris Johnson's holdout before the season opener Sunday at Jacksonville.

After missing all of the Titans' training camp and exhibition games, last Friday Johnson finally got a four-year contract extension worth $53 million and the $30 million guaranteed he wanted.

Now the three-time Pro Bowl running back is again setting his sights high. And he wants to take the Titans with him.

"We haven't been to the playoffs in two years, so I want to get back to the playoffs, hopefully win the Super Bowl here," Johnson said. "I've got a lot of team goals. We haven't been in the postseason so that's the big thing this team hasn't done, and I always got that goal to rush for 2,000 yards again."

Johnson has led the NFL with 4,598 yards rushing over his first three seasons. For now, he's the NFL's highest paid running back averaging $13.38 million a year over the next four years and $9.25 million per year over the six years taking him through 2016.

Johnson could be hampered by the fact his blocking back, veteran Ahmard Hall, has been suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Quarterback was the biggest offseason question. Now Hasselbeck is expected to start, though he is being pushed by Locker, whose poise, leadership and accuracy have been impressive early on.

"We have all the tools, and I think it's all up from here," tight end Jared Cook said. "Success is in our tunnel vision."

Related Content