Training Camp CentralNASHVILLE, Tenn. - Stepping up to the line, Kerry Collins' biggest problem in training camp is figuring out which target to throw to next.
There's Nate Washington, the free agent signee brought over from Pittsburgh, whose speed made him Tennessee's fastest receiver on the field. Justin Gage has the size to beat most defenders at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, while rookie Kenny Britt can separate from defensive backs himself at 6-3.
Or how about throwing to rookie Jared Cook, who has the size of a tight end, the speed of a wideout and is strong enough to pull in balls one-handed?
"We're going to mix it up, and we've got the guys to mix it up and change up personnel formations,'' Collins said Tuesday. "It'll be interesting to see how teams react to a guy like Jared Cook ... It'll be some interesting things that I think we can do, and I think will help us.''
It would be difficult for the Titans not to be better passing the ball than either of the past two seasons, when they ranked 27th in the NFL in yards per game. That league-best 13-3 record in 2008? Credit a physical defense and a run game anchored by a strong offensive line and running backs Chris Johnson and LenDale White, also known as Smash and Dash.
That's why Tennessee focused on adding offensive threats this offseason to make sure Collins, also brought back with his own two-year deal, can throw as the Titans choose.
They signed Washington to a six-year deal and immediately installed him as a starter, even though Washington was the No. 3 receiver with the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Then they drafted Britt at No. 30 overall, making him the first player ever taken in the first round from Rutgers and the first receiver picked by this franchise in the opening round since 1998. They swapped a 2010 draft pick to New England and grabbed the speedy Cook in the third round.
Both Washington and Cook have been busy in camp showing how quickly they can get downfield and catch deep balls. Cook seems to make a play or two each practice, sprinting past defensive backs with linebackers barely able to knock him off his feet.
Britt was hampered by an injured hamstring his first week of camp, but caught a 38-yard pass from Vince Young last week against Tampa Bay in stride and held on despite being hammered by two defenders. He later adjusted his route and caught a 37-yard TD from the scrambling Young.
It's a nice adjustment for a team whose leading receiver in 2008 was tight end Bo Scaife. Gage, the lone returning starter, ranked only fourth on the team with 34 receptions.
Coach Jeff Fisher sees an improved air attack with plays being made in practice, though most plays are being hid from prying eyes in preseason games.
"It's efficient. A good basis to judge it by is our defense, because our defense is pretty good at adjusting to seeing a concept once and taking it away. So as long as we keep making plays against the defense, we'll assume we'll be OK,'' Fisher said.
That makes sense considering the Titans' secondary features three Pro Bowlers who picked off 19 balls in 2008 as part of a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL against the pass, allowing 199.8 yards per game.
Throwing the ball better is a must after the Titans saw defenses focus on stopping the run in 2008, often stacking defenders at the line of scrimmage and daring Collins to beat them with their arm. Fisher noted Indianapolis opened the game in Nashville last October with four linebackers and only three defensive backs, and the Colts were not alone.
Fisher is curious to see how defenses react to the changes.
"It really will be a week-to-week thing,'' Fisher said. "If we're having difficulty like we did at Chicago and have to throw it, we should throw it as well, if not better.''
Dared to throw, Collins did just that in 2008, especially at Chicago and at Jacksonville as he combined for five touchdowns and only one interception. But he didn't throw for more than 289 yards in any game last year and finished with 12 touchdowns and 2,676 yards.
Collins knows the Titans under Fisher always will be a run-first team, and he calls that a good thing. That doesn't mean he isn't eager to see what he can do with his new help when defenses refuse to let them run.
"We're not going to beat our heads against a wall when it's not there for whatever reason,'' Collins said. "But look, we're just going to keep getting better and as long as we do that, we'll make plays.''