One year after a lengthy holdout impacted the Tennessee Titans in a negative way, the Titans avoided another potentially ensnarling situation by signing first-round pick Kendall Wright on Tuesday.
In a 9-7 season in 2011 with a new coaching staff at the helm, Chris Johnson’s holdout — which preceded his least productive pro season — might have made the difference between the Titans’ chances of qualifying for the playoffs and not qualifying, which is what happened.
With Wright, the issues weren’t nearly as thorny or contentious as they were with Johnson — though it’s worth noting that another wide receiver who was a first-round pick of a fellow AFC South team, Justin Blackmon, remains unsigned by Jacksonville.
Yet the way that coaches talk about Wright, specifically offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, the Titans seemingly expect the 5-foot-10, 196-pounder out of Baylor to make a big contribution — a factor rendered all the more acute by the uncertainty surrounding wide receiver Kenny Britt, who is coming off knee surgeries and who also could face discipline from the commissioner over a recent arrest. (The Tennessean reported that Britt took the field for conditioning drills on Tuesday as the rest of the team left the field.)
“He’s a very, very quick individual and he’s going to be a star in this league,” Palmer said of Wright on Tuesday in video posted on the team’s Web site. “I don’t have any questions about that.”
And then later, “He’s got stardom written all over him.”
Head coach Mike Munchak also has high hopes.
“Obviously we’re excited,” Munchak said. “It’s a good thing we don’t have to talk about it anymore. Hopefully, we can talk about the great things he can do on the field. I think he’s excited to finally be coming in and getting back to work. I think he’s happy the business side is over. That’s the big plus.”
Palmer compared Wright to other rookie wide receivers who he has coached, including Andre Johnson, who posted 976 receiving yards in 2003 with Houston, and Terry Glenn, who caught 90 balls for 1,132 yards in 1996 with New England.
Wright, the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft, still has plenty of time to turn into a productive player in the way that the aforementioned two were, but he is behind the curve.
While other Titans players had the day off on Wednesday, Wright reported for duty and met with the team’s coaches, with a particular emphasis on wide receivers coach Dave Ragone. Under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, the Titans will have to work Wright in slowly.
On Thursday, when the Titans return to the practice field, and on Friday, Wright will not be able to practice in pads. Because Wright missed the team’s first four practices and because he will be going at a somewhat slower pace for the next few days, the Titans coaches said that when the team meets with the Atlanta Falcons on Monday for combined practices in Dalton, Ga., Wright might or might not be able to take part in all of the drills.
But one thing Palmer said about Wright is that he will be willing.
“I think Kendall is one of those guys who just loves the competition and if you said, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a game Sunday and you’re not getting paid,’ I think he’s one of those guys who will come down and play because he loves the competition. He’s a football player.”
Palmer also noted that Wright hurt his shoulder earlier in the offseason but took part in a fundraiser hosted by Munchak by bowling with his left hand. “How many guys would do that?” Palmer said.
Munchak said he is not worried by how much Wright be behind the other players.
“He’s got a good understanding of what we’re doing already, which is a big plus,” he said. “He’s got to get back in shape, football shape and to get used to getting hit and contact and all that….
“There’s plenty of time to get a good feel for our offense.”
Which is more than could be said last year of Johnson.