Titans notebook: Whisenhunt nearing first on-field evaluation period

Second-year wide receiver Justin Hunter and the Tennessee Titans open their voluntary mini-camp next week.

Ron Chenoy/Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The three-day Titans minicamp next week may say voluntary. But it’s also the last chance for players to make an impression on the new coaching staff a week before the NFL Draft.

For new coach Ken Whisenhunt, it’s another opportunity to assess just what he inherited.

"Next week will be good to get some time on the field with our guys and see what we have," Whisenhunt said.

Because of the head coaching change, the Titans were allowed an extra two-week offseason conditioning program for the players that concluded last week. Same can be said of next week’s minicamp. While Whisenhunt and staff have pored over Titans game and practice film, there’s nothing like being up close and personal when it comes to assessing talent and skill levels that may — or may not — fit into the offensive and defensive changes taking place.

"I said that two weeks ago when we had that opportunity in here with our guys for the first time," Whisenhunt, who formerly served as the Chargers offensive coordinator and Cardinals head coach, said of relating that every player is going through an audition. "There are no illusions about what this business is. You’re being evaluated every time you step on the field, even in what you do. So, yeah, I think they understand that."

After two weeks of working with the players and next week offering more opportunity, Whisenhunt and staff delved more deeply this week into NFL Draft preparations with general manager Ruston Webster and his personnel staff.

"We’ve been in there grinding away all day," Whisenhunt said. "Ruston and his personnel guys have done a tremendous amount of work on it over the last couple of weeks. And we’ve been in and out. But this week has really been focused more about the coaches and the staffs going through the (draft) board and going back through them again, talking about the players, getting opinions on how they stack up."

The Titans have six draft picks, including 11th overall pick. They also have the 10th pick (42nd overall) in the second round, but don’t have a pick in the third round after trading it to the 49ers last year for a second-round pick to choose wide receiver Justin Hunter. Other Titans overall picks include 112 (fourth round), 151 (fifth round), 186 (sixth round) and 228 (seventh round). The NFL did not grant the team any compensatory draft picks, which are based on net unrestricted free agency losses from the previous season.

While access by coaches to players has been limited, there has been access nonetheless. And Whisenhunt said he likes what he has seen so far.

"I like our football team," he said. "I like the way these guys have put the time in. I’ve liked what I have seen from them in my limited time I have been able to be with them."

As honorary chairpersons, Titans quarterback Jake Locker and wife Lauren recently joined students at Belmont University and Vanderbilt University in support of the International Justice Mission and its Stand for Freedom Campaign.

The non-profit international organization is attempting to grow awareness and assistance for the estimated 29.8 million people around the world who are enslaved. A student-led, 24-hour awareness endeavor sought to showcase the group’s commitment to ending modern-day slavery around the world.

"Being involved with IJM opened our eyes to how many people still struggle in slavery and oppression," Locker said while on Belmont’s campus. "Slavery is something you read about in the history books or learn about in school, and you think it is no more. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are more slaves in the world today than ever before. I’m so excited to be standing behind a cause like this because it is so important."

Back on the gridiron, Locker is recovering from foot surgery that caused him to miss the last seven games of last season.

On Thursday, Whisenhunt commented on the progress of the fourth-year quarterback.

"I haven’t been able to do anything with Jake on the field," Whisenhunt said, "but he’s doing really well on his rehab. He’s started to the point where he is doing a little bit of jogging on his foot. It feels really well, in the feedback I have gotten from (Titans trainer) Todd (Toriscelli) and from Jake, when we have had the opportunity to sit in here and talk football."

With Wednesday’s release of NFL schedules, the Titans also announced finalized dates for the first three of four preseason games that had yet to be released.

The Titans open the preseason against the Packers at LP Field on Saturday, Aug. 29. They then play at the Saints on Friday, Aug. 15, before traveling to play the Falcons on Saturday, Aug. 23. The Titans close the preseason at home against the Vikings on Thursday, Aug. 28.

Titans home games this season include the Cowboys (Sept. 14), Browns (Oct. 5), Jaguars (Oct. 12), Texans (Oct. 26), Steelers (Nov. 17), Giants (Dec. 7), Jets (Dec. 14) and Colts (Dec. 28). Road games include at the Chiefs (Sept. 7), Bengals (Sept. 21), Colts (Sept. 28), Redskins (Oct. 19), Ravens (Nov. 9), Eagles (Nov. 23), Texans (Nov. 30) and Jaguars (Dec. 18).