NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee Titans believe they already have a big advantage heading into their second training camp with coach Mike Munchak. This time around, they actually had an offseason together.
"A year ago, we didn't know what Chris Johnson was,'' offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. "We didn't know what Kenny Britt was. We didn't know if Matt (Hasselbeck) was going to adjust from a West Coast quarterback to a vertical passing quarterback. All of those things we have the answers to now. Now we're able to do a little more.''
The last head coach hired in 2011, Munchak had his first offseason wiped out by the NFL lockout.
The Titans arrived at training camp learning names of new coaches and teammates like veteran quarterback Hasselbeck along with scaled-back versions of Palmer's offense and Jerry Gray's defense. They managed a 9-7 record despite losing Britt to a torn right ACL and MCL in the third game with Johnson turning in a career-worst 1,047 yards after a holdout nearly all preseason. They just missed the AFC's final wild-card berth to Cincinnati on a tiebreaker.
Now they report Friday for Munchak's second training camp with no holdouts and receiver Kendall Wright, the 20th pick overall in the draft, expected to be signed before the first practice July 28. Their exhibition opener is Aug. 11 at Seattle.
"I think we're excited about where we are,'' Munchak said.
Munchak tweaked his coaching staff, bringing in Brett Maxie and Steve Brown for the secondary and Keith Millard as a new pass rush specialist to work with a defense that had all of 28 sacks in 2011. New general manager Ruston Webster likes young and fast on defense, so cornerback Cortland Finnegan was allowed to leave for St. Louis along with safety Chris Hope, ends Jason Jones and William Hayes and veteran fullback Ahmard Hall.
The Titans got the biggest offseason attention for failing to land four-time MVP Peyton Manning. They did sign Kamerion Wimbley to play defensive end and added five-time All Pro left guard Steve Hutchinson to bolster a line that was part of a rushing offense that ranked next to last season.
Munchak also threw open the quarterback competition between Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the eighth pick overall in 2011. Hasselbeck started all 16 games, and his 3,571 yards passing was his third-best season and fourth-best in franchise history. He completed 61.6 percent of his passes, though Locker was impressive off the bench throwing for 542 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran for a TD.
The quarterbacks rotated even down to speaking to reporters on separate days during the offseason, which will continue in camp. The Titans want to pick a starter for the season opener Sept. 9 against New England as soon as possible.
"They're even,'' Palmer said. "It's competitive right now between both guys. Coach Munchak has made that statement. And when the time comes and everyone's comfortable with who we think the starting quarterback is, coach Munchak will announce that.''
Wide receiver Kenny Britt, who had surgery on both knees this year and last week was charged with driving under the influence, may be cleared to practice, but his availability is still to be determined. Insurance comes in Wright from Baylor, who was so impressive the Titans already plan to use him and Britt together with veteran Nate Washington, who is coming off a career season.
"In theory, we should be further off,'' Hasselbeck said. "I think we did a pretty good job coming out of the gate though last year with no one having really played before, all the new pieces. It's a good group of people. There aren't a lot of egos.''
The Titans also must see if veteran Eugene Amano can hold off Kevin Matthews at center. Alterraun Verner is on track to replace Finnegan opposite Jason McCourty, though there's little experience behind them in Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Ryan Mouton and Chris Hawkins.
Hasselbeck is one of only seven Titans 30 or older, though three more turn 30 by Oct. 5. It's part of a youth movement that leaves Johnson the oldest running back. He's taking more of a leadership role. With his new contract requiring him to take part in the team's offseason program, he did just that and added about nine pounds of muscle. His goals include leading the league in rushing and trying to be the first to run for 2,000 yards twice in a career.
More than anything, Johnson wants back in the playoffs where the Titans haven't been since his rookie season in 2008. He noted the Giants went 9-7 before winning the Super Bowl, just like the Tennessee.
"Just knowing the atmosphere when I was playing in the playoff game the last time, knowing how good it feels just motivates to make it back there,'' Johnson said.