NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kenny Britt realizes an inordinate amount of attention is being paid to his return to the field for the Tennessee Titans.
But it goes beyond just the fifth-year wide receiver returning completely healthy this season and showing no signs of two knee surgeries on his right knee in 2011 that included the permanent placement of two titanium pins. He also had surgery on his left knee last summer to reduce swelling.
Indeed, lingering physical maladies have kept the big, strong and athletic receiver from fulfilling a destiny that many felt would eventually land him among the game’s elite at the position.
Then, there are the off-the-field issues, too. When individually viewed, they might not seem like a big deal, but when the collective total of brushes with law enforcement officials since joining the Titans in 2009 reached nine, it had long come time to wonder if Britt had the maturity to deal with being a lead receiver in the NFL.
“Even with all that stuff that I did off the field, I really have something to prove,” Britt said Thursday after an organized team activities session at the team’s facility. “If you had a great year last year and went to the Pro Bowl, people want to see you do it again. There are always expectations with what you do in your life.”
As for football, lofty expectations have followed Britt since the Titans selected him in the first round of the 2009 draft out of Rutgers. In his first two seasons, Britt led the team with 1,476 receiving yards and shared the team lead with 12 touchdown receptions. From 2009-10, he ranked sixth among NFL receivers at 17.6 yards per catch.
He was on pace for a breakout season in 2011 before tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the team’s fourth game. Last season, the NFL suspended him for the opener because of off-the-field shenanigans, and he never was completely healthy from the previous injury and limped through 14 games with only 589 receiving yards.
These days, though, Britt wants to treat all that like it was ancient history. Titans head coach Mike Munchak senses a revival of spirit in the 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver.
“He’s having fun,” he said of Britt’s approach to spring drills. “He’s smiling, but he always smiles, even when he didn’t feel good health-wise. But he is enjoying it.
“I think he enjoys not spending every day in the training room. I think he enjoys the fact when there is a day off, he can really take a day off and get away from here a little bit. I think he’s excited. He realizes that he has a big role in this offense.”
To assist Britt and fellow Titans receivers in their development, Munchak hired Shawn Jefferson as receivers coach. He spent the past five seasons in a similar position with the Detroit Lions, including being the position coach for star receiver Calvin Johnson.
Jefferson sees quite a few similarities between Johnson and Britt.
“He’s the Alpha male of the group,” Jefferson said of Britt being the leader among the team’s wide receivers that include 2012 first-round draft pick Kendall Wright, 2013 second-round draft pick Justin Hunter and veteran Nate Washington.
“My goal for (Britt) this year is to put it all together — stay healthy, be the leader in the room, be the leader on the field for the receivers group, be one of the leaders on this team and be one of the playmakers on this team,” Jefferson added.
“ … I’m fully expecting a Pro Bowl year out of him.”
Britt claimed he and fellow Titans receivers have taken to the gruff and in-your-face coaching style of Jefferson, who replaced Dave Ragone as receiver coach after he was shifted to quarterbacks coach to work with starter Jake Locker.
“He doesn’t go on what he’s heard,” Britt said of Jefferson. “That was something we were wondering about, how the new coach would look at what you did on the field and what you did off the field. Once he came in, he said all that stuff that you did was behind us.”
Indeed, Jefferson’s approach from day one with the receivers is to develop more than just solid players, but rather responsible citizens.
“One thing that I truly believe in as a coach, and it’s a lot different than other receivers coaches, I focus on raising the man first, and then let the player spring forth out of the man,” he said.
“So, the first 10 minutes of my classroom time is life skills, where we talk about adversity. We talk about approach, attitude. We talk about relationships. I truly believe that if the man is found, the player comes out of the man.”
Munchak feels that is exactly what the receiving corps needed in general and Britt in particularly.
“It’s a great fit for every one of them,” Munchak said. “They are all competitive in that room. I think Shawn is competitive. Shawn doesn’t change.
He brings it every day. … He’s got that personality. He loves what he does. The players see that, and players respond to that.”
Last summer, Britt was charged with driving under the influence while trying to enter the nearby Fort Campbell Army Base, but those charges were later dropped. And back home in New Jersey, he was questioned by police, but not charged, concerning a shooting at a party he had attended in January.
Britt likes the clean slate Jefferson brings to being his position coach.
“Basically, it says what we did in the past, just forget about it,” Britt said of a sign hanging in the wide receiver’s room. “We are just moving forward right now from the present.”
That includes Britt being a prime target for Locker in an evolving offense under first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains that is purported to be focusing on getting the ball to the team’s playmakers in a variety of ways.
“The health thing is No. 1,” Munchak said of Britt. “I think he is seeing how he can contribute. This system is something that the receivers are really responding to. I see a guy that hopefully can have the year we all hoped he would have the last three years.”
If that happens, it could serve Britt well, especially considering he is entering a contract year where he could become a free agent following this season. But Britt contends that is not on his mind as a motivating factor.
“No, not at all,” Britt said of being concerned about his contract status. “I know there are people out there who are going to think about it. If you think about it, it really takes your mind from what you need to do right there in the present.
“I keep myself in the present day, and that’s fine.”