Time now for Young, newer Titans to lead Tennessee

The Tennessee Titans look, and sound, dramatically different

this training camp.

Linebacker Keith Bulluck is keeping practices lively with the

New York Giants, and end Kyle Vanden Bosch is sprinting full-speed

at quarterbacks in Detroit. Center Kevin Mawae, the veteran who

kept the offensive line loose, is keeping busy waiting for his

telephone to ring.

The loss of that trio of vocal veterans has left a leadership

void, and coach Jeff Fisher has heard a lot of questions about who

his new leaders are. Remember, this franchise opened 0-6 last

season yet finished 8-8 – the first NFL team ever to finish at .500

after such a winless start.

”I don’t have any reservations whatsoever about the lack of or

concerns about it,” Fisher said. ”We’ve got a good locker room.

We have young players emerging at each of the positions. This team

has had a great foundation laid here over the years and the

decades.”

Who fills those gaps?

Vince Young, the third pick in the 2006 draft and 26-13 as a

starter, is speaking up even more. He also has been around the

team’s headquarters more this offseason than any other. So is

fullback Ahmard Hall, a former Marine.

There’s linebacker Stephen Tulloch, the man Fisher calls the

glue in making the defensive calls. There’s also fiery cornerback

Cortland Finnegan and usually quiet safety Chris Hope, going into

his ninth season.

Hall insists the process started back during the offseason.

”You just can’t come out of nowhere and start trying to lead.

You have to start the first day we come back to organized

activities during the offseason program. Then when the guys are

here early every day, you have to show the guys you’re going to

lead by example,” Hall said.

Justin Gage and Nate Washington do that daily, leading receivers

to work catching balls off a passing machine. Finnegan calls

himself a doer, not a talker, even though he tends to talk at

opponents during games.

”I feel like I’m that piece of the engine as a spark plug. You

really can’t get the car cranked up unless you’ve got the spark

plug,” Finnegan said.

That’s what tackle Tony Brown is trying to do on the defensive

line. He’s the senior lineman with this team, signing as a free

agent in October 2006 and getting two more contracts to stick

around. He has been on the physically unable to perform list as he

recovers from right knee surgery this offseason. He said nobody can

replace Vanden Bosch, who wasn’t afraid to speak up.

”I just have to show these younger guys how to do things by the

way that I do things. I’m not a big rah-rah guy. I just go out to

do what I can do, and that way it’ll rub off on those guys,” Brown

said.

Brown predicts Hope, who won a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh

before signing with Tennessee in 2006, will be one of the players

who speaks up before kickoff.

”It’ll be a shock to us to hear from a guy who doesn’t really

normally speak too much,” Brown said. ”That definitely gets guys

going.”

Left tackle Michael Roos, who has started 80 straight games

since being drafted in 2005, tried to take up for Mawae on the

second day of training camp, wearing the center’s No. 68 jersey out

to practice. He fooled a few fans who hoped the Titans had decided

to bring Mawae back to an offense that ranked second in the NFL in

rushing last season and yet allowed only 15 sacks.

Most of the attention and pressure to lead falls on Young as the

quarterback.

He did that very well in college, leading Texas to the BCS

national title after the 2005 season. He came off the bench after

last year’s 0-6 start and led the Titans, with Chris Johnson

running for 2,006 yards, to an 8-2 finish. Young agrees it’s time

for players like himself, Finnegan and Tulloch to pick up that

leadership role.

And he likes what he sees.

”They’re doing a good job,” Young said.