NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nate Washington compared Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer to a scientist in a laboratory on Thursday.
Instead of a chemist that takes precautions, however, Palmer and the Titans want to develop an offense that is hazardous to defensive coordinators and difficult for opponents to handle.
The emergence of Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins and tight end Jared Cook, who all posted career bests in receiving categories in 2011, the expected return of Kenny Britt and the addition of first-round draft pick Kendall Wright give Palmer explosive elements.
"Coach Palmer's been in the lab all offseason," Washington said. "He's been licking his chops to get back to us. You can tell on his face that he has some different things up his sleeve, so it's a matter of getting on the same page. We're thankful for this spring, we're thankful for the opportunities to come in and get on the same page with the quarterbacks and make sure everything runs smoothly this year. "
Unlike last offseason, Palmer's first in Tennessee that was shortened because of the lockout, the veteran coach is enjoying the opportunity to install more of his offense, create different packages, do more at each position and put more points on the scoreboard.
Tennessee tied for 21st out of 32 teams in scoring last year with 20.3 points per game. It's defense ranked eighth in the league, allowing 19.8 points per game. The Titans had nine games last season that were decided by a touchdown or less, including six of their final seven and went 4-2 in tight games down the stretch, but would not have a problem with putting more distance between themselves and opponents in 2012.
Washington said the Titans will be able to move him and Wright to different spots on the field, even incorporating four- or five-receiver sets that could give running back Chris Johnson room to race. It is a continued shift in approach from previous Titans teams.
"When I first got here, the fullback was on the field all day, every day," Washington recalled. "It was a power offense; we were going to run the ball down your throat type of offense, but this year, we have so many different weapons. With CJ's speed in the backfield, I think we're going to open this thing up a little bit for him to show his versatility a little bit more, catching the ball and doing some other things."
Johnson rushed for 1,047 yards on 262 attempts and added 418 receiving yards on 57 catches in 2011. It was Johnson's lowest rushing output of his four-year career and is another point of emphasis this offseason, tackle Michael Roos said.
Roos said he's sensed that teammates are eager to "work out the kinks" and focus on proper techniques before training camp begins, so the Titans will be "full-steam ahead" when camp opens at the end of July.
"Whoever the running back would have been, we just didn't run the ball well last year. We've just got to be better," Roos said. "Even when (Johnson) got (2,006 rushing yards in 2009), the next year, I know he wanted 2,000 again and we were all for it. You strive for that every time."
Roos said putting more receivers on the field will not have too much impact on the approach of the offensive line but could be helpful for the offense.
"It doesn't change us a ton," Roos said. "Sometimes when you get into the nickel situation it does. You've got to know what kind of personnel is out there and what to expect. I think it will be good for us in the run game and pass game to have all the different sets and keep the defense guessing."
Washington is coming off his seventh and best season in the NFL in which he recorded career highs of 74 catches, 1,023 yards and seven touchdown grabs. Tennessee lost Britt to a knee injury in Week 3, which elevated Washington to the top receiving spot and forced him to fight through double teams throughout the season.
He wants more this year, but not necessarily for himself. The Titans' longest-tenured receiver said he wants more for the team, including a postseason berth. Washington was on two Super Bowl winners in four years in Pittsburgh, but he hasn't been to the playoffs since joining the Titans in 2009.
"As a team, we'll be able to do some bigger things," Washington said. "That's, of course, what I'm focusing on. I had a great year individually last year, but we came up short as a team. It's been a long time since I've been in the playoffs, and I'm ready to get back."
Washington persevered through pain last season to become the first Titans receiver with more than 1,000 yards in a season since Drew Bennett (1,247) and Derrick Mason (1,168) in 2004. Mason gained more than 1,000 yards four straight seasons (2001-04).
Washington underwent minor surgery this offseason and his been rehabbing, working out and practicing (which currently does not involve going against defenders). He said he doesn't care about leading the stat sheet but does want to continue to lead his position group by example.
"I'm not coming in with any (statistical) expectations," Washington said. "Whenever my number is called, I just want to be there to answer the door. Any type of situation that we get in, I want to be the guy that's accountable. I want to be the guy that's picking (teammates) up, whether it's physically or mentally. Whether my numbers are the same, I don't think that's going to sway me either way, but at the same time, I just want to be the accountable guy."
Washington said his progress last year, in which he nearly doubled his production in catches and yards, grew from a deeper commitment and refined focus through which he devoted Mondays through Saturdays into being the best he could on Sundays.
"This is on-the-field, definitely, off-the-field type of profession where a lot of times, the off-the-field things can get in the way of your on-the-field production," Washington said. "I eliminated a lot of distractions in my life, focused on family, focused on work and it paid off for me. I told my coaches last year when we first got in here that I was tired of hearing the criticism and hearing the things bad about me and not being able to look myself in the mirror. I just told them that (2010) was going to be the last time that I didn't work hard and didn't do the things I was supposed to do."