Titans ready to win at start of Mike Munchak era

The Tennessee Titans are enjoying their fresh start very much in

the post-Vince Young and Jeff Fisher era.

Gone are the drama and distractions along with the quarterback

and coach after a 5-2 start disintegrated into a 6-10 collapse in

2010. That led to the decision to release Young three weeks before

the team parted with Fisher, the only head coach this franchise had

known since his promotion in November 1994 while the team was still

the Houston Oilers.

Owner Bud Adams stayed in-house for his new coach, promoting

Mike Munchak from offensive line assistant and choosing a man who

has been with the team since 1982, when the Oilers drafted him in

the first round out of Penn State. And Munchak wants to win

now.

”The beauty of the NFL is you can go from 6-10 like we did last

year to winning it all, so why not us?” Munchak said.

Munchak surrounded himself with a mix of assistants, including

his former Oilers teammate Jerry Gray as his defensive coordinator

and the experienced Chris Palmer to oversee the offense. The Titans

restocked at quarterback first by drafting Jake Locker out of

Washington at No. 8 overall, then signing veteran Matt Hasselbeck

to a three-year contract.

”In my mind, there’s a great running game, great offensive

line, good pass call, talented wide receivers, great running back,

good defense,” Hasselbeck said of his decision to come to

Tennessee. ”I mean it’s perfect.”

Adams, who turns 89 in January, didn’t stop spending money

there.

The Titans loaded up on defenders in the draft led by linebacker

Akeem Ayers out of UCLA. Once the lockout ended, they signed

veteran tackle Shaun Smith and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud,

while adding experience in the secondary with safeties Jordan

Babineaux and Anthony Smith, and cornerback Frank Walker.

Those moves are meant to improve a defense that ranked 26th in

total yards allowed per game in 2010 and 29th against the pass.

They also added veteran tight end Daniel Graham along with

linemen Adam Terry and Pat McQuistan. Graham said he chose the

Titans because he sees plenty of talent and potential despite the

fact Munchak was the eighth and final head coach hired for this

season.

”It’s been a crazy offseason, but it’s nothing we can do about

it,” Graham said. ”A lot of people are in the same spot. We just

have to adapt and keep it going.”

The Titans’ lone problem – hardly a small one – has been Chris

Johnson’s holdout. The Titans are ready to make him the

highest-paid running back ever, but Johnson wants to be one of the

NFL’s highest paid players.

In other words, quarterback money.

Munchak remains hopeful Johnson will be back by the opener Sept.

11 at Jacksonville. The coach said Johnson can contribute right

from the start if he’s with the team.

”We need him here to be part of this thing for us to reach our

goals,” Munchak said.

The new coach also is waiting to see if NFL Commissioner Roger

Goodell suspends receiver Kenny Britt for two arrests in New Jersey

during the lockout. Britt met with Goodell on Tuesday.

The Titans are embracing Munchak’s new rules and his message of

one team.

Televisions, game systems and big stereos are no longer allowed

in the locker room, where players often camped out battling each

other, and the players’ lounge has been stocked with comfy

recliners. Hats aren’t allowed in the building either.

Accountability is the buzzword, and fullback Ahmard Hall said they

know Munchak will keep players who want to do right so they can

win.

”I see a united team, and that’s not so much what we’ve seen

from the past,” Hall said. ”We’ve seen a lot of the individual

stuff going on, a lot of distractions. What I’m seeing now is a

very united team. The defense is connected with the offense. We’re

the Tennessee Titans instead of the offense and defense and guys

doing their own things.”

That alone could help a team that has had a six-game skid each

of the past two seasons.

Quarterback was the biggest offseason question. Now Hasselbeck

is expected to start, though he is being pushed by Locker, whose

poise, leadership and accuracy have been impressive early on.

”It definitely gives us a 2 1/2-mile start from where we would

be were he not here,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said of

Hasselbeck.

The Titans need that passing threat to free up Johnson. He

followed his 2,006-yard rushing season by running for 1,364 yards

in 2010 when opponents stacked the line of scrimmage, daring

Tennessee to beat them through the air. Tennessee couldn’t and

ranked 17th in yards rushing, 25th in yards passing.

Receivers Britt and Nate Washington, along with tight end Jared

Cook, give Hasselbeck the weapons to do that.

”We have all the tools, and I think it’s all up from here,”

Cook said. ”Success is in our tunnel vision.”