NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Running back Dexter McCluster wanted to show Titans coaches his ability to learn is about as quick as his speedy feet.
The versatile, shifty and speedy player who signed a multi-year contract with Tennessee in March said he was studying his playbook until he fell asleep Monday night to be as prepared as possible for Tuesday when the Titans began a three-day voluntary minicamp.
Teams with new head coaches were able to hold minicamps as part of their offseason program to give coaches an opportunity to work with veterans on the field. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said his staff values the time to work with players, who also appreciate the opportunity to do the same with coaches.
McCluster is likely to spend most of his time at running back but is capable of playing receiver and being a dynamic return specialist. He said learning the offense is important to him to enable coaches to capitalize on his versatility. And as for the tempo of practice, McCluster said, "I learned that it's going to be fast-paced."
"I learned if you make a mistake to do it at full-speed and how fast can you learn," McCluster said. "It's a challenge, but this is a profession and we're pros so we have to do it. I've been a fast-paced guy all my life, so I just have to get a little faster.
"They threw a lot at us and expect us to be professionals and get in the playbook and learn as much as possible as fast as possible, so I wanted to make sure I got there and minimized the mistakes," he added. "I had a few mishaps here and there, but for the most part, I did better than I thought I would."
Running back Shonn Greene said the tempo had "an actual training camp practice feel to it, but that's what we've got to do to get the work in."
Offensive and defensive players are allowed to line up against each other and run the full plays in helmets but not pads and are allowed to participate in daily walk-throughs and meetings.
The pace was noticeable at other positions, too.
Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt leads the Titans in their first minicamp of 2014. (Donn Jones Photography.com)
"Everything is fast. We're going to hit the ground running and do it full-speed," tight end Delanie Walker said. "I think it helps. If you run everything full-speed, you get an understanding of the offense and it carries over into the game. If we're doing it full-speed now, you'll do it in a game full-speed."
Guard Chance Warmack, who was drafted in the first round with the 10th overall pick last April, said the minicamp provided a good learning opportunity as he tries to build off a 2013 rookie season in which he started every game.
"The tempo was definitely faster, but that's a good thing," Warmack said. "I think a new team brings a new dynamic, and I'm just staying positive and keeping a positive outlook. This is the first day, so you're going to have some rocks and bumps in there, but as the days go on, you get better with repetition."
LOCKER MOVES, THROWS PASSES: Titans quarterback Jake Locker was able to participate in individual position drills and displayed some mobility around the pocket when throwing to receivers.
Locker, who is recovering from surgery on his right foot to repair a Lisfranc injury, and the team are balancing how much they want the fourth-year QB to do with preventing anything that could cause a setback. Locker said it's difficult because of his desire to do everything, but he's encouraged by the progress he's made and wants to continue to increase his mobility.
"I think you've got to understand where you can comfortably push yourself to get better and maybe, like I said, come back before people expect you to, but also be smart and not set yourself back," Locker said. "There's a fine line between that, and I think I've got great dialogue with our trainers and Coach Whisenhunt, just being honest with them and letting them know how I feel and how we're going to go forward that day."
Whisenhunt said Locker's activity met expectations for this point in the rehab process.
"I think we knew what he was going to be able to do," Whisenhunt said. "Any reps that we could get him, anything that he can do out there on the field is something we want to do. We just have to make sure that we don't try to do too much."
Locker swapped his helmet for a Titans cap when the practice shifted to team periods, and veteran Charlie Whitehurst and Tyler Wilson, a 2013 draft pick of Oakland, handled the rest of the day's snaps. Locker said Whitehurst, who was with San Diego in 2013 when Whisenhunt was the Chargers' offensive coordinator, has helped him learn the system.
"He's great, obviously a guy that was in the offense last year and very comfortable with it, a lot of carryover from last year's system to what we're doing here," Locker said. "It's awesome to have him as a guy that's been out there and done it. To get his perspective on a lot of plays has helped me grow quicker than I probably would have."
WHISENHUNT'S IMPRESSION:Whisenhunt has plenty to evaluate during the minicamp and is doing so on the field and during film study after the sessions. He wanted to get a basis for how players handle information and how they can put it into action. Rather than focus on individual performances, Whisenhunt said he liked the way that veterans who are adapting to the new systems were able to help teach younger players.
"The thing that was impressive to me, that stood out to me today more than the physical play was the leadership of some of our veteran players," Whisenhunt said. "Just from hearing their conversations it's obvious that they put the time in studying offensively and defensively, talking about the individual plays or the schemes. That communication is a big piece of what we're trying to be as a team, so that was great to see."
Safety George Wilson, in his ninth pro season and second with the Titans, said some players are vocal and some lead by example, "but what I think the front office has done this offseason is make sure they have veteran experience at every position, especially on defense, and that allows guys to give coaching points and allows guys to give in-the-play, in-the-drive adjustments rather than having to wait on the sideline for your coach to correct you or wait until you get into the meeting room."
"It allows guys to have a more confident plan with each other because when a guy corrects you, that helps to build trust and you can in turn help and correct him, and that's where you create the bond and that team chemistry," Wilson said. "It all starts right here. That's why everyone is here, even though it's voluntary. That's why everyone is here and fully participating, because we all know this is ground zero for building a team. You've got to start from the cornerstone and continue to build the foundation and that's what we're doing now."