Titans notebook: Run game still the focus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has installed a new offense, there has been a steadfast mantra that the Tennessee Titans will maintain a run-first approach.
Sure, third-year quarterback Jake Locker will have plenty of aerial weapons from which to choose — veteran receivers Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, second-year man Kendall Wright, rookie Justin Hunter and free-agent tight end Delanie Walker.
But if Thursday night’s preseason opening loss to the Washington Redskins is any indication, then the Titans are going to run the ball with the 1-2 punch of veterans Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene behind a revamped and promising offensive line.
“The run game looked good,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said after the 23-22 loss. “I thought C.J. had a nice run and made a guy miss for a big run. I think Shonn Greene came in and did a nice job also. He scored on a nice run. That was fun to watch.”
After the offensive line had a bad mix of injuries and underachievement last season, the Titans signed coveted left guard Andy Levitre and drafted right guard Chance Warmack in the first round to go along with bookend tackles Michael Roos on the left and David Stewart (who did not play) on the right. The Titans plan to get back to their old ways of running the football and relying on play-action to set up the pass.
“I’m happy overall with the group that was in,” said Johnson, who reeled off an untouched 58-yard scoring jaunt in the first half. He has rushed for five straight 1,000-yard seasons, including surpassing 2,000 in 2009. “We went out there and played hard and just wanted to be physical. I think it was very physical up front.”
As part of the Titans’ unprecedented splash in free agency, they signed Greene, who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards the past two seasons for the Jets. His power is a complement to Johnson’s speed, much like when the latter entered the league and had former Southern Cal power back LenDale White as the team’s change of pace.
“That’s going to be our motto,” Greene said after his Titans debut. “We want to control the line of scrimmage. It starts up front. Those guys did a good job up front doing that. Me and Chris (Johnson) just had to run.”
When the Titans selected Alabama guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in April, they immediately penciled him in at starting right guard. Thursday night, he lined up for the first time in a Titans uniform and learned a few lessons.
“What I am starting to figure out is that preseason is a time for you to get a feel for what you can do in the regular season,” said the 6-foot-2, 323-pound Warmack. “There were some things out there I thought I could get away with in terms of technique. I learned that you’ve got to use it a little bit differently.”
While Warmack has been practicing through training camp beside veteran right tackle David Stewart, he lined up Thursday night next to another veteran, versatile reserve Mike Otto, who played while Stewart was held out. To his left at center, he is getting assistance from veterans Fernando Velasco and Rob Turner.
“The veterans do a good job of helping the rookies out … with the calls and different types of looks that you get on defense,” Warmack said. “We did a good job preparing for that. I have Mike Otto over there playing right tackle with me. He helped me out tremendously.”
A rousing round of applause went up from Titans fans at LP Field Thursday night when Marc Mariani trotted onto the field to return a punt. It was his first action since breaking his leg on the same field while returning a kickoff in a preseason game last August against Arizona.
“I heard them, you know, standing out there and hearing your name called and having the fans react like that is indescribable,” said the popular Mariani, a 2010 seventh-round draft pick out of Montana who not only made the team, but was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie returner.
“It’s hard to put into words because they’ve been there for me from the get-go, ever since I was drafted,” he said. “It’s been so good and a blessing to be here with Titan Nation, and to have that support is unparalleled.”
When Mariani went down, the Titans turned to veteran returner Darius Reynaud, who shined all season, including returning two punts for touchdowns in one game. Also a receiver on a receivers-deep squad, Mariani is in a battle for a roster spot, but his versatility and production when healthy are distinct advantages.
“There were moments in the past year where you’re uncertain,” Mariani said. “You don’t know if you’re ever getting back to that point and the opportunity. It was a special night for me, and the fans were so unbelievable to me tonight. 
“It was pretty surreal. I can’t think of any other word besides special, and I feel blessed and just thankful for this opportunity.”
The Titans opened a dozen of their training camp sessions to the general public. But now that preseason games have started, there are only four more opportunities for fans to view the team practice at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
And those final four come the next four days, including Saturday from 3-5 p.m. CDT, Sunday from 6:30-8:30 p.m., Monday from 3-5 p.m. and Tuesday from 3:15-5:15 p.m. Each session features select Titans players signing autographs after practice.