Time now for Young, newer Titans to lead Tennessee

The Tennessee Titans look, and sound, dramatically different
this training camp.

Linebacker Keith Bulluck is keeping practices lively with the
New York Giants, and end Kyle Vanden Bosch is sprinting full-speed
at quarterbacks in Detroit. Center Kevin Mawae, the veteran who
kept the offensive line loose, is keeping busy waiting for his
telephone to ring.

The loss of that trio of vocal veterans has left a leadership
void, and coach Jeff Fisher has heard a lot of questions about who
his new leaders are. Remember, this franchise opened 0-6 last
season yet finished 8-8 – the first NFL team ever to finish at .500
after such a winless start.

”I don’t have any reservations whatsoever about the lack of or
concerns about it,” Fisher said. ”We’ve got a good locker room.
We have young players emerging at each of the positions. This team
has had a great foundation laid here over the years and the
decades.”

Who fills those gaps?

Vince Young, the third pick in the 2006 draft and 26-13 as a
starter, is speaking up even more. He also has been around the
team’s headquarters more this offseason than any other. So is
fullback Ahmard Hall, a former Marine.

There’s linebacker Stephen Tulloch, the man Fisher calls the
glue in making the defensive calls. There’s also fiery cornerback
Cortland Finnegan and usually quiet safety Chris Hope, going into
his ninth season.

Hall insists the process started back during the offseason.

”You just can’t come out of nowhere and start trying to lead.
You have to start the first day we come back to organized
activities during the offseason program. Then when the guys are
here early every day, you have to show the guys you’re going to
lead by example,” Hall said.

Justin Gage and Nate Washington do that daily, leading receivers
to work catching balls off a passing machine. Finnegan calls
himself a doer, not a talker, even though he tends to talk at
opponents during games.

”I feel like I’m that piece of the engine as a spark plug. You
really can’t get the car cranked up unless you’ve got the spark
plug,” Finnegan said.

That’s what tackle Tony Brown is trying to do on the defensive
line. He’s the senior lineman with this team, signing as a free
agent in October 2006 and getting two more contracts to stick
around. He has been on the physically unable to perform list as he
recovers from right knee surgery this offseason. He said nobody can
replace Vanden Bosch, who wasn’t afraid to speak up.

”I just have to show these younger guys how to do things by the
way that I do things. I’m not a big rah-rah guy. I just go out to
do what I can do, and that way it’ll rub off on those guys,” Brown
said.

Brown predicts Hope, who won a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh
before signing with Tennessee in 2006, will be one of the players
who speaks up before kickoff.

”It’ll be a shock to us to hear from a guy who doesn’t really
normally speak too much,” Brown said. ”That definitely gets guys
going.”

Left tackle Michael Roos, who has started 80 straight games
since being drafted in 2005, tried to take up for Mawae on the
second day of training camp, wearing the center’s No. 68 jersey out
to practice. He fooled a few fans who hoped the Titans had decided
to bring Mawae back to an offense that ranked second in the NFL in
rushing last season and yet allowed only 15 sacks.

Most of the attention and pressure to lead falls on Young as the
quarterback.

He did that very well in college, leading Texas to the BCS
national title after the 2005 season. He came off the bench after
last year’s 0-6 start and led the Titans, with Chris Johnson
running for 2,006 yards, to an 8-2 finish. Young agrees it’s time
for players like himself, Finnegan and Tulloch to pick up that
leadership role.

And he likes what he sees.

”They’re doing a good job,” Young said.