NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans are scheduled to begin training camp this week at Saint Thomas Sports Park in Nashville. Rookies and veterans report to camp on Friday, July 25, and will practice for the first time the next day.
This year's training camp is the team's first to be directed by Ken Whisenhunt, who was named head coach in January.
Fans of the Titans are invited to watch nine total training camp practices free of charge, beginning with the July 26 workout at 9:20 a.m. CDT. The remaining practices that are open to the public are scheduled for July 27, 28, Aug. 1, 3, 4 (in Flowery Branch, Ga.), 6, 11 and 12. Training camp is the only time of the year that practices are open to the general public.
On Sunday, Aug. 3, fans are invited to the annual Academy Sports Outdoors Day at Titans Training Camp. Spectators should arrive early for the scheduled 2:50 p.m. practice for giveaways and chances to win special prizes.
Free parking for training camp is available directly across the street from Saint Thomas Sports Park (460 Great Circle Road) at the CVS/Caremark corporate offices. Security is present to assist in crossing the street before, during and after practice.
Once inside the gates of the Titans complex, visitors can observe from the perimeter of the practice field, but onlookers should be prepared to stand in typical Middle Tennessee summer heat for the duration of their visit, as shade and seating are very limited.
A Titans Locker Room merchandise trailer is set up next to the practice field selling a wide selection of Titans apparel and even game-issued items. Cold non-alcoholic beverages also will be available to purchase.
For an up-to-date camp schedule, fans can call the team's training camp hotline at (615) 565-4190, or they can go to the team's official website, TitansOnline.com/TrainingCamp.
Titans Online is committing more resources to training camp than ever before. The site will go live from training camp for the first 30 minutes of every "public" practice from Saint Thomas Sports Park, giving viewers an up-close look at the action on the field with insight from the "Voice of the Titans" Mike Keith, general manager Ruston Webster and former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck. Additional guests will provide color during the course of camp.
Additionally, fans can follow the Titans through camp on the club's social media platforms, including Facebook (facebook.com/titans), Twitter (@tennesseetitans), Google([plus.google.com/ Titans](https://plus.google.com/ Titans/)) and Instagram (instagram.com/tennesseetitans). Users are encouraged to use the hashtag #TitansCamp to participate in ongoing conversations from training camp.
FIRST TRAINING CAMP UNDER WHISENHUNT Players return to Saint Thomas this week after a five-week break. They have been off since June 19, when they participated in their final minicamp practice, the culmination of a transformative offseason.
Since the Titans concluded their 2013 season Dec. 29 at LP Field, team president/CEO Tommy Smith, Webster and Whisenhunt have overseen roster changes, facility upgrades, technological improvements and staff turnover. In March they collaborated to bring in veteran free agents to both sides of the ball, selectively spending on players with experience and winning pedigree who are still in their prime years. A six-member draft class was added in May to help round out the squad, which stands at 90 players heading into camp.
During the two-and-a-half month offseason training program, players were outfitted with new digital playbooks for the first time in team history. They were challenged with fresh offensive and defensive schemes from a newly-constructed coaching staff and were subjected to rigorous conditioning. The pace of practice was feverish, demanding focus and intensity.
Each step was carefully planned by Whisenhunt, who became the 17th head coach in franchise history and the third in the "Titans era" on Jan. 13. He arrives in Tennessee with 17 years of NFL experience as a coach and nine seasons as a player. The Augusta, Ga., native returns to the city where he got his start in coaching; he was an assistant at Vanderbilt University from 1995 to 1996.
In 2013, Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Under his direction, the Chargers had the NFL's fifth-ranked offense (393.3 yards per game) and the league's top offense on third down (49.0 percent). Quarterback Philip Rivers'105.5 passer rating matched the highest rating of his career and placed fourth among NFL signal callers. For his efforts, Whisenhunt was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Professional Football Writers of America.
His first stint as a head coach was from 2007 through 2012, when he took the Arizona Cardinals to new heights. He won a franchise-record 49 games and led the organization to a pair of NFC West titles and its first NFC Championship. After a 12-win season in 2008, the Cardinals suffered a narrow defeat in Super Bowl XLIII at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whisenhunt was on the Steelers coaching staff from 2001 through 2006, spending the first three seasons as tight ends coach and the final three campaigns as offensive coordinator. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in only his second NFL season, the 2005 club won Super Bowl XL with Whisenhunt calling the plays.
A former walk-on at Georgia Tech, Whisenhunt was a 12th-round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 1985. As a tight end, he went on to play 74 career games with the Falcons, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.
Whisenhunt's Titans staff is comprised of 20 assistants. Twelve are new to the team, while eight carry over from the 2013 squad. Two of his earliest hires were Ray Hortonas defensive coordinator and Jason Michael as offensive coordinator.
An ex-NFL safety, Horton spent most of the last 20 years as a defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator. He was with Whisenhunt in 2011 and 2012 as defensive coordinator for the Cardinals, and prior to that, the two were on the same Pittsburgh Steelers staff.
Michael spent the last three seasons as the tight ends coach for the Chargers, overlapping with Whisenhunt in 2013. After quarterbacking Western Kentucky University to an NCAA I-AA National Championship in 2002, Michael launched his coaching career with the University of Tennessee.
90 PLAYERS, 53 SPOTS
Little time separates the launch of training camp from the start of the preseason. On Saturday, Aug. 9, exactly two weeks from the first practice, Tennessee plays its first of four preseason games, hosting the Green Bay Packers at LP Field. Furthermore, the Titans have a mere 43 days from the outset of camp until their regular season schedule kicks off Sept. 7 in Kansas City versus the Chiefs.
In the meantime, work remains to determine who will make up the final roster of 53 players. Those decisions come primarily in two waves: first on Aug. 26, when the roster is pared from 90 to 75, and second on Aug. 30, when final cuts are made. An eight-member practice squad may be formed as early as Aug. 31.
Leading team's personnel decisions is Webster, who is in his third year as executive vice president/general manager after serving two seasons as vice president of player personnel. He enters his 27th NFL season, which also includes 18 years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four years with the Seattle Seahawks.
Webster's most critical directive from Smith during the 2014 offseason was to steer the head-coaching search that eventually landed Whisenhunt. After researching and considering a number of candidates, Webster ultimately interviewed four of them (all of whom were hired as NFL head coaches shortly thereafter). So impressed were he and Smith with Whisenhunt, they negotiated a deal to sign him within a day after Whisenhunt's playoff run with the Chargers came to an end.
With the staff in place, Webster turned his attention to the composition of the team. First came free agency, and the Titans wasted little time in reaching agreements with a half-dozen targets: Denver linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips, Kansas City running back Dexter McCluster, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Al Woods, San Diego quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and Baltimore tackle Michael Oher. Those six players account for 37 NFL seasons, 15 playoff seasons and three Super Bowl appearances.
Then, after months of scouting, Combine testing, private workouts and interviews with the incoming NFL talent, the Titans entered the draft in May armed with six picks. They used their first-round pick and the 11th overall selection on the University of Michigan's Taylor Lewan, an Associated Press All-American and four-year starter at left tackle. Later they added Washington running back Bishop Sankey (second round), Penn State defensive lineman DaQuan Jones (fourth round), Wyoming defensive back Marqueston Huff (fourth round), Kentucky linebacker Avery Williamson (fifth round) and Louisiana State quarterback Zach Mettenberger (sixth round).
The vast majority of the roster is made up of players acquired since Webster became the general manager in 2012. Only 16 of the 90 players currently with the team (excluding injured reserve) were brought aboard in 2011 or before.
EYES ON OFFENSE
Webster's first-ever pick as general manager was Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright, chosen in 2012 with the 20th selection in the first round. In only two seasons, Wright has totaled 158 receptions for 1,705 yards and six touchdowns. His 158 catches are the most by anyone in the 2012 draft class and are the most in franchise history in a player's first two campaigns.
Wright is unquestionably among the featured playmakers on the offensive side, but he is not alone. The wide receiver corps also includes one of the most experienced players on the team, Nate Washington, who is entering his 10th season and is now ranked ninth in franchise history in receiving yards. Near the other end of the age spectrum is wide receiver Justin Hunter, a second-round pick from Tennessee in 2013 who led the team in receiving average as a rookie.
Sankey, McCluster and veteran Shonn Greene figure to be regulars in the rotation at running back. Greene, who has two previous 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the New York Jets, was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2013 but was limited for much of the year with injuries. McCluster was used in Kansas City as a running back and wide receiver and made the Pro Bowl in 2013 as a returner.
At tight end, another 2013 free-agent signee, Delanie Walker, had one of the most prolific campaigns in team history for a player at his position. With 60 receptions for 571 yards, he became the only Titans/Oilers tight end other than Frank Wycheck to reach 60 receptions in a single season, and his six touchdown receptions were the most by a franchise tight end since Wycheck's six in 1996.
Perhaps no position group for the Titans has transformed as much in recent seasons as the offensive line. Only left tackle Michael Roos remains among the starters from 2012. The influx of new talent includes Lewan, left guard Andy Levitre (2013 free agent from Buffalo), right tackle Michael Oher (2014 free agent from Baltimore), center Brian Schwenke (2013 fourth-round pick) and right guard Chance Warmack (2013 first-round pick).
But it is quarterback where the watchful eyes of fans are likely to focus throughout training camp and preseason. Jake Locker, a first-round pick in 2011 (eighth overall), hopes to continue on the trajectory he took before injuries derailed a quick start in 2013. Playing without a turnover for the first four games, Locker helped the Titans build a 3-1 record. However, he was knocked out of the fourth game early when he injured a knee and hip on the same play.
Locker surprisingly returned to action less than a month later. But in a devastating twist, he was sidelined once again in the ninth game. This time, it was for the duration of the season after he was diagnosed with a Lisfranc foot injury and underwent surgery to repair it.
Locker appeared in seven total games in his 2013, completing 111 of 183 passes for 1,256 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions and a passer rating of 86.7. At the time of his season-ending injury, he ranked fourth in the NFL in third-down passer rating (103.7) and eighth in the league in fourth-quarter passer rating (105.9).
DEFENSE MOVES TO 'HYBRID 3-4'
Defensively, the Titans are transitioning from a 4-3 scheme to what Whisenhunt and Horton have described as a "hybrid" version of the more linebacker-heavy 3-4 defense.
An important element of the offseason process was transitioning the front seven to their new roles. Phillips was signed to help in the effort as an outside pass rusher. He, Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley and Akeem Ayers all fit into roles on the edge. A former first-round pick, Morgan has 12.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Up front, Jurrell Casey enters his fourth NFL campaign and has garnered a reputation as one of the top young interior defensive linemen in football. As a defensive tackle in 2013, he was named second-team Associated Press All-Pro. His 10.5 sacks not only led the team but made up the second-highest total by a franchise defensive tackle since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 (13 by Ray Childress in 1992). Among NFL defensive tackles in 2013, Casey's sack total trailed only Jason Hatcher of the Dallas Cowboys (11).
A pair of big-bodied 2013 veteran free agent additions, Sammie Hill and Ropati Pitoitua, return for their second seasons in Tennessee and are among the likely candidates to maintain starting roles on the defensive line in addition to Casey.
At middle linebacker, the Titans have enough depth to create an intriguing competition. As newcomers Woodyard and Williamson are added to the mix with incumbents such as Moise Fokou, Colin McCarthy and Zach Brown, the contenders outnumber the available jobs.
In the secondary, the Titans return three of the four starters from 2013. Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard are expected to man the safety spots, while two-time defensive captain Jason McCourty is back as a regular at cornerback. Coty Sensabaugh, last year's nickel defensive back, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, a third-round pick in 2013, are vying for the other permanent role at cornerback.
The Titans also are trying to settle upon their kicker for 2014. They currently have two on the roster: Maikon Bonani, originally an undrafted free agent from South Florida in 2013, and Travis Coons, who was undrafted and signed by the Titans out of the University of Washington this offseason.