NASHVILLE, Tenn. â As the Titans put a wrap Thursday on their offseason program, first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt had two specific admonitions for his team as it enters summer break before training camp.
Stay in shape. Stay out of trouble.
"That was the first message," Whisenhunt said of telling his team to make good decisions while away from football until reporting on July 25 to start training camp the next day. "This is a period where there is not a lot going on. So, anything that happens is magnified. It’s important for us that we represent this city and our fans well."
With the free agency departure of wide receiver Kenny Britt, who signed with the St. Louis Rams after at least 10 incidents involving law enforcement during his time in Nashville, the knucklehead factor appears low among the current band of Titans. Then again, there is that saying about idle hands being the devil’s workshop.
"That means when you are out," Whisenhunt said, "you’ve got to understand people are watching you, so it’s important and, hopefully, that message will sink in."
The second message to the team was to stay in shape. To that end, Whisenhunt revealed a conditioning test that will greet the players once they return. It’s a demanding 300-yard shuttle run in increments of 25 yards with multiple stops and starts.
"I think they understand that it’s going to be a little warm when we come back and we run, so they’ll have to work," Whisenhunt said of the timed test. "The hope from my perspective is that they will understand that’s going to be tough, so they better stay in shape. Our guys are very aware what that test is going to be."
Especially the veterans, who know what’s coming in the crash course called training camp. The offseason program that concluded Thursday with a three-day mandatory minicamp pales in comparison.Just two weeks after training camp opens, the Titans play their first preseason game against the Packers at home on Aug. 9. They open the season at the Chiefs on Sept. 7.
"These next five weeks are going to be key to a lot of guys making the team or not making the team," said veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who spent the previous six seasons with the Broncos. "So, it’s very important that we stress to the rookies to take care of yourselves. And for the older guys, too, I know this is year seven coming for me, so I can’t sit around.
"I’m going to have to do some work myself. So, it’s that we stress to everybody to take care of themselves."
With the move to Whisenhunt from three-year Titans coach Mike Munchak came drastic change in offensive and defensive philosophies. Much of the time in the classroom and on the practice field has been about learning new systems on both sides of the ball.
"I think as a coach probably in your first year with your team, you’re never where you want it to be. But I think as far as establishing a way that we work and from an installation perspective, I think we got a lot done," Whisenhunt said. "But the point that we emphasized to the group (Thursday) was, when we come back, it’s going to be tough. We’ve got to really pick it up and get going. So, that’s going to be the next test for this group, is to how they handle these next five weeks."
While the defense is adapting to a new 3-4 alignment from the traditional 4-3 set, the offense has learned a new system of multiple looks and options led by fourth-year quarterback Jake Locker. It was key for Locker to be involved in the installation the past few weeks after recovering from foot surgery in November that caused him to miss the last seven games of last season.
"Anytime you get out here and have the opportunity to run things full speed, it allows you to get a real look at it," said Locker, whose return is considered well ahead of schedule after not getting out of a walking boot until mid-March. "The more of those you get, the more comfortable you feel running those plays on Sundays."
Locker said he feels at ease with the new offense that features an improved offensive line and plenty of weapons. But it is a general consensus that how far Locker can take the team is how far it will go, considering he missed nine starts to injury last season and five in 2012.
"Once you get the verbiage and you are able to paint a picture when you call a play, that’s when it becomes really comfortable for you," Locker said of learning and implementing a new offense. "As you are calling the play, you are picturing the routes that you have down field. I know I’m getting really comfortable with what we are doing offensively. With the majority of the stuff that we have put in, I can call it, and I can see it before I get to the line of scrimmage."