NFL Nation: Chris Hope

PITTSBURGH – Forget for a second that organized team activities are voluntary.

Polamalu
Mitchell
Or that strong safety Troy Polamalu skipped most of those offseason practices last year to train in California only to play in every game in 2013 and lead the Steelers in snaps (1,041).

New free safety Mike Mitchell provided maybe the best reason why Polamalu’s absence from Steelers’ OTAs, which started on Tuesday, shouldn’t elicit much more than a collective yawn.

“Right now I’m still learning the playbook,” said Mitchell, who signed with the Steelers in March. “Once I know what I’m doing then he and I can work on changing some things up if we choose to do that.”

Indeed, Mitchell and Polamalu have plenty of time to work together in mandatory minicamp next month and then in training camp.

The OTA sessions should get Mitchell accustomed to playing in the Steelers’ defense. They in turn will provide a fifth-year veteran with a good base before he starts working on his chemistry with Polamalu on the back end of the Steelers’ defense.

Polamalu hasn’t had to deal with much change at free safety throughout his career. He started two seasons with Chris Hope there and spent the past eight seasons with Ryan Clark manning free safety.

Polamalu and Clark started 92 games together, including the postseason, and they played so well off one another because of their familiarity with each other and their close friendship. Mitchell said he won’t have a hard time developing a good rapport with Polamalu.

“I think it will be fine,” the former Carolina Panthers safety said. “He’s a veteran, I’m a veteran. It shouldn’t take long as long as we both know what we’re doing.”

Mitchell doesn’t expect to see Polamalu until minicamp, which runs from June 20-22 and concludes the Steelers’ offseason.

“I’m sure he’s probably getting himself right and getting himself in shape for the season,” Mitchell said. “He reached out to me when I signed and just said he can’t wait to work with me. I can’t wait to meet him in person.”

Some thoughts on the Detroit Lions' third preseason game, a 40-9 win Thursday night over New England, in extended form for those who have felt short-changed this preseason:

  • The first-team offense might not have been as sharp as desired, but it made a definite step in the right direction in accounting for its first touchdown of the preseason and 16 points in one half of play. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had some accuracy issues, most noticeably on a sequence of three consecutive incomplete passes in the second quarter, but his sidearm sling of a screen pass started Reggie Bush on a 67-yard play. He also threw a quick-strike 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Scheffler. It's important once again to remember that receiver Calvin Johnson did not play because of a minor knee injury.
  • We discussed the Lions' hopes for creating more turnovers this season, and the first-team defense did just that in the second half. Cornerback Chris Houston intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on a pick play, and the Lions also forced three first-half fumbles. Safety Glover Quin forced one of the fumbles before a hip injury ended his night.
  • After much debate, safety Louis Delmas did indeed start and was active in two series of play. He knifed into the backfield to make a tackle for loss on the second play of the game and also recovered the fumble that was forced by Quin. Overall, it was an important and encouraging step. With Delmas making just the brief appearance and Quin departing with an injury, the Lions played much of the half with Don Carey and Chris Hope at safety.
  • The Lions' most significant injury appeared to be to running back/special-teams ace Montell Owens, who got some work with the first-team offense but crumpled to the ground on his second carry. He didn't put any weight on his left knee as Lions officials helped him off the field.
  • The Lions couldn't get through the first half without three personal fouls, two of which backed up their field position after fumble recoveries. The dumbest play was that of defensive end Willie Young, who grabbed Brady by the jersey and pointed his finger in his face. Inexcusable.
  • Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah definitely has a flair for the dramatic. Shortly after returning from having his knee checked out, Ansah made a big play on fourth-and-1 to stop 255-pound Patriots running back James Develin for no gain. Another rookie, cornerback Darius Slay, got picked on right away by Brady for a 37-yard pass to receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
  • I loved watching Joique Bell make defenders miss and grind for extra yards while in a competition with Mikel Leshoure for the No. 2 running back job. Playing a good portion of the second half, Bell finished with 101 yards of offense on seven touches. If I had to choose between Bell and Leshoure, well, it wouldn't be difficult at this point.
  • Backup quarterback Shaun Hill got the night off, so No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore played the third quarter and part of the fourth. If nothing else, Moore gave the Lions something to think about as they decide whether to keep three quarterbacks on their final roster. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including a nice seam pass to tight end Joseph Fauria for a 22-yard score.
  • Even with Johnson out, the Lions didn't get receiver Ryan Broyles into the game until the second half. Presumably, the Lions wanted to get a long look at Nate Burleson in the slot and Patrick Edwards on the outside with the first-team offense.
The Detroit Lions' recent history includes scattered dives into free agency for veteran defensive backs to provide insurance against a projected starter's demise. Most recently, safeties Tyrell Johnson and Erik Coleman found their way onto the Lions' roster.

Delmas
Hope
Given that context, we probably shouldn't get too worked up about Monday's decision to sign veteran Chris Hope, who played last season for the Atlanta Falcons after a six-year run with the Tennessee Titans that overlapped with current Lions coach Jim Schwartz when he was the Titans' defensive coordinator. Still, it's difficult to ignore the obvious projected starter whose demise might be feared.

Louis Delmas didn't take a single offseason snap during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. Longtime backup Don Carey handled the position alongside newly-acquired Glover Quin, and while it's assumed that Delmas will be ready for training camp, his long run of knee injuries makes it really hard to know what lies ahead.

The guess is that Carey would be the Lions' choice if Delmas isn't ready to play this season. Hope gives them another option, and one who is more familiar with their defensive scheme than most available free agents. We'll see where it goes.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Titans have been a patient, methodical free agent team in recent years.

I just ran through their roster and lineups from recent years and came up with Matt Hasselbeck. But the Titans were desperate for a veteran quarterback in 2011 when they signed him quickly to a three-year, $20 million deal. That was the year with condensed free agency because of the lockout.

Before that, receiver Nate Washington was the last “big” free agent the Titans signed early in the process for significant money.

Six years, $27 million with $9 million guaranteed.

But "early" in the process? I’m finding Washington landed his deal on March 2, 2009 and free agency that year started Feb. 27, when the Redskins pounced on Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

So Washington’s deal came four days into free agency, as did a contract for defensive tackle Jovan Haye.

This team has holes, and currently has more than $18 million in salary cap room.

Last year, owner Bud Adams sent them in pursuit of Peyton Manning. Mike Munchak has said more than once that pursuing Manning threw the team off its plan to pursue other people who were gone by the time Manning landed in Denver.

Could the Titans be bigger players than usual early in free agency this year?

Could they be negotiating with at least one free agent-to-be in the three-day negotiating window the league has created before free-agency kicks off March 12?

“I would think we definitely would be,” Munchak said. “The hard part is you do a lot of homework right now, and then some of these guys sign with their teams in the last 48-hours or they get franchised. But I think there are people we are identifying we are interested in that could help us. It’s just a matter of who’s available. And again, the hard part is we could want them real bad, but five other teams may want them also.”

Among names I believe they could look at: Bills guard Andy Levitre, Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and Falcons safety William Moore.

The vibe is they want a free agent class like they got in 2006, when safety Chris Hope, linebacker David Thornton and center Kevin Mawae added a strong dose of veteran leadership and did a lot to change the team’s culture.

This is just Ruston Webster’s second year as the team’s general manager. If he gets out there early and is in the mix for quality veterans who don’t qualify as discounts, a lot of Titans followers might feel a lot better about where the team is heading.

If he doesn’t, there will be a lot of lamenting.

They need more than the draft and second-tier free agency can provide.

William Moore out for Atlanta Falcons

December, 22, 2012
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DETROIT -- Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore will miss his third straight game with a hamstring injury.

The Falcons just announced Moore will be inactive for Saturday night’s game with the Detroit Lions. Chris Hope is expected to start in Moore’s place at strong safety.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback Dominique Davis, guard Phillipkeith Manley, tight end Chase Coffman, receiver Tim Toone, guard Harland Gunn and defensive end Cliff Matthews.

Roddy White active for Falcons

December, 16, 2012
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White
ATLANTA -- Wide receiver Roddy White, who was listed as questionable with a knee injury, will be active for Sunday’s game with the New York Giants.

But starting safety William Moore (hamstring) will not be active. Chris Hope is expected to start in his place.

The other inactives for the Falcons are quarterback Dominique Davis, receiver Tim Toone, guard Phillipkeith Manley, guard Harland Gunn, tight end Chase Coffman and defensive end Lawrence Sidbury.
The final injury reports are out, so let’s take a look at the latest on the most significant injuries from around the division:

The Atlanta Falcons continued to hold safety William Moore (hamstring) and cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) out of practice and that means there’s a good chance both will sit out Sunday against Carolina. Chris Hope is the likely replacement if Moore can’t play. If Samuel is out, that likely means more playing time for Robert McClain and Christopher Owens.

The Panthers are listing running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) as doubtful. That means DeAngelo Williams will be the main running back. Receiver Brandon LaFell (toe) is questionable and Louis Murphy likely would start if LaFell can’t play. Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist) and linebacker James Anderson (back) didn’t practice and are listed as questionable, but coach Ron Rivera indicated there is hope they’ll be able to play.

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Roy Miller was cleared to practice after sitting out the previous two days due to a head injury. Coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs will be cautious with Miller. If he can’t play, Gary Gibson and Corvey Irvin likely would take on an increased work load. Cornerback Anthony Gaitor officially was moved to the 53-man roster from injured reserve Friday afternoon.

The New Orleans Saints are relatively healthy. Only reserve offensive tackle Charles Brown (knee) and backup cornerback Corey White (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday’s game with the Giants. All the other Saints that have been listed on the injury report this week are probable.

Checking injuries that matter most

October, 5, 2012
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The Friday injury reports for Sunday’s games are out, so let’s take a look at the most significant injuries around the NFC South.

Atlanta is listing safety William Moore (hip), center Todd McClure (pectoral) and fullback Lousaka Polite (hamstring) as questionable. If Moore can’t go, veteran Chris Hope likely would get the start. If McClure is out, the Falcons could go with either Joe Hawley or Peter Konz. If Polite sits out, I’d expect to see some of Jason Snelling at fullback, but I’d also expect to see the Falcons do the same thing they did last week and use some reserve offensive linemen at fullback.

The Carolina Panthers could be without two key defensive players as they play Seattle. Middle linebacker Jon Beason (knee) and cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) did not practice Friday and are listed as doubtful. The Panthers could play it safe and start Jason Phillips in the middle. Or they could take a chance and move outside linebacker Luke Kuechly to the middle, where he played in college. Kuechly isn’t off to a great start and switching positions could make things more difficult for him. Second-year pro Josh Thomas is the likely alternative if Gamble can’t go.

Receiver Lance Moore and linebacker David Hawthorne have been ruled out for Sunday night’s game with San Diego. With Moore out, veteran Greg Camarillo, who was re-signed this week, should get some playing time. Hawthorne missed last week’s game and so did his backup, Jonathan Casillas. But Casillas is expected to play this week, so the Saints will have to choose between him and Will Herring.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a bye, so there is no injury report for them.
Jim Wyatt indicates in a report in today’s Tennessean that the Titans and Jordan Babineaux could be ready to strike a deal as soon as March 13 rolls around.

Babineaux’s previous deal makes it so the Titans can’t sign him before free agency opens.

Wyatt says Babineaux made $860,000 last season and counted $575,000 against the cap. (A CBA rule softens the cap hit of long-time veterans making the minimum.)

Tennessee has big holes coming at safety. Michael Griffin and Chris Hope are heading for unrestricted free agency along with Babineaux, who also played for Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray in Seattle.

Safety is regarded as a thin position around the league, so the Titans won’t be alone in having need.

Which means someone else could be interested in Babineaux.

ESPN’s Josina Anderson talked to Babineaux on Monday. She passed this exchange on.

"I wouldn't want to necessarily leave if Tennessee makes me feel at home," Babineaux said.

When asked how the Titans would make him feel at home, Babineaux replied, "Cha-ching."
Early thoughts on the Titans' players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

The Titans have already re-signed three players who were heading for free agency: tight end Craig Stevens, tackle Mike Otto and receiver Lavelle Hawkins.

Fullback Ahmard Hall -- He’s a great locker room guy, but did not have a great season and the Titans have Quinn Johnson in house.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery -- Couldn’t push his way into action and presuming the team drafts at least one receiver, it should have no interest.

Guard Jake Scott -- Team will say thanks for solid service and look to get younger and better on the interior.

Defensive end Dave Ball -- He’s not the solution, but he’s a quality complementary part who can get into the backfield.

Defensive end William Hayes -- Just hasn’t panned out. The team needs at least one new end and there won’t be room for him any longer.

Defensive lineman Jason Jones -- Was not as good at end in the new defense as he was at tackle in the old one. He can still be a very good player.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud -- Didn’t play well before he was hurt, then got displaced by rookie Colin McCarthy.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan -- I don’t think the Titans want him at anything near what he’ll be able to command.

Safety Jordan Babineaux -- Played well enough that safety-starved Tennessee should want him back.

Safety Michael Griffin -- Does the best when everything around him is going well. But the price he’ll want gets paid to a leader, not a follower.

Safety Chris Hope -- Made a difference on the field and in the locker room for a long time, but his time is now past.

Other UFAs:

Titans regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Don McPeak/US PresswireThe Titans became a passing team this season behind the solid play of veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Biggest surprise: The 9-7 record. The team was expected to suffer from the lockout and resulting lack of offseason work, but it came together and outperformed expectations given a new coach, new staff and new quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck had the best passing season in franchise history by anyone not named Warren Moon despite losing WR Kenny Britt early to a torn-up knee and not getting consistent production from running back Chris Johnson. Coach Mike Munchak set a tone and showed himself to be a straight-forward, well-measured coach who won the respect of his players. With a big contribution from their rookie class, the Titans started off well under a new regime.

Biggest disappointment: Johnson secured a big new contract after he billed himself as a playmaker, not just a running back. But he and the run game were so ineffective that the Titans became a passing team even with Britt on IR. Over half of Johnson's yards came in four wins over bad teams. And although the team consistently defended him, it was completely fair to question his effort. He often went down too easily, he didn’t make a guy miss when he wound up one-on-one and he didn’t work hard enough at his responsibilities without the ball in his hands. The team is hopeful it can get him back on track with an offseason in which he’s expected to be in Nashville far more often.

Biggest need: Defensive pieces. Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who was not part of the plan at the start of the season, was probably the best defensive player on the team at season’s end. That indicts a lot of other guys. The Titans have to rush the passer better to be more consistent on defense and they need more than Derrick Morgan, Jason Jones (who should go back to tackle), Dave Ball and William Hayes. Three safeties are heading toward free agency, so the Titans have a lot to sort through there, too.

Team MVP: Hasselbeck is the easiest choice. He played better than many of us expected and brought just the sort of leadership the Titans needed. But I’ll go with receiver Nate Washington, who became the No. 1 receiver with Britt’s injury and delivered a 1,000-yard season even with a bad ankle for the last part of the season. Washington thrived with the new coaching and new quarterbacks. His maturation serves as a symbol of what the Titans need from a lot of other guys at a lot of other spots.

Sorting out the secondary: Safeties Michael Griffin, Chris Hope and Jordan Babineaux and cornerback Cortland Finnegan all have expiring contracts. Finnegan probably draws an offer in free agency beyond what the Titans would give him. The team cannot make a long-term commitment with big money to the inconsistent Griffin. Hope is likely done. Babineaux played well and would be nice to retain. That’s a lot to decide on just in the secondary, but I’d expect a big infusion of new guys to work with young corners Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner.

Wrap-up: Titans 30, Panthers 3

November, 13, 2011
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Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans’ 30-3 win against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: The Titans got back over .500, improving to 5-4 with a trouncing of the Panthers. Tennessee looked a lot more like the team that raised expectations in big performances against the Ravens and Browns this season. The Titans will have a chance to pull within a game and a tiebreaker of the Texans in the AFC South next week.

What I liked, offense: Chris Johnson had his biggest effort of the season, with 27 carries for 130 rushing yards and a touchdown to go with four catches for 44 yards. Matt Hasselbeck found connections with Damian Williams, who looked like a dependable, dangerous threat in the passing game with five catches for 107 yards including a 43-yard touchdown.

What I liked, defense: A team that’s struggled to get consistent pressure on the quarterback found five sacks of Cam Newton to go with a Chris Hope interception. The Titans didn’t allow a pass play longer than 19 yards.

What I didn’t like: The Titans were just 3-for-13 on third down, a rate that won’t cut it against a higher-caliber team going forward. Nine penalties for 92 yards are too many for too much.

What’s next: The Titans head for Atlanta for a second consecutive game against an NFC South foe. If they can improve to 6-4, they’ll be only a game and a head-to-head loss off the pace of idle Houston in the division.

Can Babineaux impact Titans' secondary?

September, 18, 2011
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NASHVILLE. Tenn. -- Will Chris Hope’s shoulder injury result in a permanent lineup change?

We don’t know Mike Munchak’s philosophy on starters losing jobs to injury, and the Titans decided to move forward and pay Hope a $6.5 million base salary this season.

But Jordan Babineaux will fill in for Hope today against the Ravens at LP Field. He’s got a history as a playmaker, and if he can provide the Titans with a jolt, Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray could have a tough call once Hope is healthy.

The inactive lists:

Titans
Ravens
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans severed ties with their coach and their quarterback and set about for a fresh start.

They’ll suffer from time lost with the lockout, but in Mike Munchak, a largely new staff and a new combo of quarterbacks in Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the franchise hasn’t just turned a page.

It’s opened a new book.

The early chapters could well be choppy and rough.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is looking for a bigger defense that will stop the run first, and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is bringing a scholarly approach to a group used to being screamed at. They have new signal callers on offense and defense (middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay), so there is a lot of new stuff to cover.

But external expectations are low. If the Titans can get their best player, Chris Johnson, on the field and make strides on defense, it’s not impossible to improve on last season's disastrous 6-10 record.

Munchak preaches the virtues of being a true professional -- know what to do and do it. The question is, does he have enough talented guys who, following that mantra, can win football games?

THREE HOT ISSUES

1) Will Johnson be around?

It’s hard to imagine his sitting out the season. The flamboyant running back loves the NFL stage. But he's one of the league’s most dynamic players and is certainly scheduled to be underpaid at $1.065 million. The Titans won’t negotiate if he’s not at camp. He won’t come to camp without a new deal. There are currently no signs of any real movement.

He’s not fired up about a compromise that would have him join the team but not practice until a deal is reached. Someone will bend. But in the meantime, we’re likely to see a much less threatening offense.

“It’s tough to tell how long it takes to become an issue,” left tackle Michael Roos said. “Once he’s here he’s here and we start working with him. We’ll be a different team without him. He's definitely one of the top two, if not the best running back in the league. A special player, very dynamic. It makes for a different kind of offense when he’s not in there.

“The plays wouldn’t change. Just without having his speed in there people would play us differently. I wouldn’t say it would necessarily be a worse offense. It would just be someone else running it, Javon Ringer or the rookie (Jamie Harper). It wouldn’t have CJ’s dynamic and people having to worry about his speed.”

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Chris Johnson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Titans will be a different team if they are without Chris Johnson, who rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
If defenses aren't worrying about that speed, things will be far more difficult for Hasselbeck and the team’s other best weapons, receiver Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook.

2) How will Munchak’s style translate?

He’s a Hall of Fame player, and he’s been a top position coach for years. Odds are Munchak can coach a football team.

“He’s his own man,” linebacker Gerald McRath said. “Everybody is going to have to sit back and watch, but it’s definitely going to be different. He has that personality. He wants to establish something that’s his, something that he’s worked hard for. I feel like it’s a great opportunity. It’s a privilege just to be involved in that, to be able to put into some of that.”

The question really is about his CEO role. How does he deal with the late-night calls about DUIs or the overeating defensive lineman? How does he react to the city calling for the starting quarterback’s head or the player enduring stuff at home that’s hurting his play?

Munchak has talked about accountability and discipline and consequences, things that all had slipped at the end for Jeff Fisher. Can he enforce all that effectively?

One other thing: Fisher was great with rules and clock management. In Munchak’s first turn in the primary headset, it will be interesting to see how he fares in those departments.

3) Can the Titans stay healthy up front?

Part of the Titans’ push to be bigger up front on defense is about being better against the run. Part of it is about being more rugged deep into the season. Some of Tennessee’s speed rushers in recent years wore down late, and the Titans suffered for it.

Tracy Rocker has big shoes to fill as defensive line coach, where Jim Washburn had a great run of success. Can Gray and Rocker show the discipline to pace the linemen the way they are talking about doing now?

“I think we have to be real smart this year because our (defensive linemen), for some reason, get hurt quite a bit,” Munchak said. “We have to limit their plays not only in games but in practice so you don’t lose guys… We have to find a way to keep them healthy. You can’t control all that, but we have to be smart.”

BIGGEST SURPRISE

It’s early, of course. But the team’s talking up Cook again, and this time he seems prepared to live up to it. The tight end is running plenty of routes that take him deeper than most tight ends, and the quarterbacks are thrilled to have such a big target stretching the field. He seems to be responding better to the mellow approach of Palmer than he did to the high intensity of Mike Heimerdinger.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Britt’s offseason was filled with off-the-field issues. The Titans gave him a clean slate coming in, but hamstring problems have kept him out of camp so far. He said that he thought yoga was going to help him solve such problems but that his instructor apparently took the money and ran with it. The Titans are already without their most dynamic player in Johnson. With Britt sidelined, they are also missing No. 2.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McRath is probably the odd man out in the linebacker shuffle, unless he makes a charge to overtake Will Witherspoon on the weakside. McRath knows he didn’t make enough plays last year, but he’s saying the right things and carrying himself the right way. Maybe he’s a special teams stud if he isn’t playing defense.
  • [+] EnlargeTennessee's Mike Munchak
    Don McPeak/US PRESSWIRENew coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, will have high expectations for his interior line.
  • The pressure is on the Titans' interior offensive line. Munchak and O-line coach Bruce Matthews, both Hall of Fame linemen, expect Leroy Harris, Eugene Amano and Jake Scott to play better in their second season all together. If they don’t, we’ll call it part missed assessment and part blown confidence. Keeping Hasselbeck upright and healthy is a huge deal.
  • I’m not sure how the Titans will distribute their tight ends without tipping their intentions. Cook is the receiver and Craig Stevens is the blocker. Veteran addition Daniel Graham can do both but is more a blocker.
  • Jordan Babineaux was lured to the Titans from Seattle largely because of his relationship with Gray when both were with the Seahawks. They shouldn’t do anything that entails Michael Griffin playing anything but centerfield. And Babineaux is more a free than a strong safety, But the Titans will blur the distinction. Can he challenge for Chris Hope’s job? If he does, will Hope take a pay cut to stay?
  • The Titans actually have reasonable depth at cornerback. Cortland Finnegan needs to produce big in a contract year and Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty are up-and-comers. Ryan Mouton was lost for the year with an Achilles injury. But veteran addition Frank Walker made a nice early impression.
  • This team always has an undrafted receiver who creates buzz early. This time it looks to be Michael Preston out of Heidelberg. He’s got nice size and athleticism.
  • There’s not enough evidence to know if seventh-rounder CB Tommie Campbell can play yet. But he certainly had physical attributes that makes receivers take notice. Receiver Yamon Figurs recently went against him and came away muttering that Campbell was the biggest corner he’s ever seen. Figurs said Campbell, who is 6-foot-3, was “like a giraffe.”
  • Jake Locker has shown steady improvement and has been far better early on that I anticipated he would be.
  • If the Titans are going to be a lot better on defense, second-year end Derrick Morgan and second-round pick Akeem Ayers, a strongside linebacker, are going to have a lot to do with it. Morgan is a very good player, and Ayers bring the Titans size they’ve not had at linebacker since the franchise relocated.
  • Leadership was a giant issue last season. There was hardly any when things got tough. The Titans' additions could solve that. Hasselbeck, Graham, Ruud and Ayers are going to be big in that department.
  • Even if Justin Gage has a huge preseason, the Titans should consider moving on if everyone else is healthy. He’s simply not been a steady enough playmaker, and if his presence is going to keep the team from exploring the upside of someone like Damian Williams, it’s not the right move.
  • Where does recently added, versatile veteran offensive lineman Pat McQuistan fit in? The Titans have a lot of young linemen they like, but his case for edging somebody out will include his experience at every position but center. That could increase their flexibility on the bench.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans got what they were looking for at Matt Hasselbeck's first practice and said what you’d expect they’d say afterwards.

The tempo picked up, and while there were plenty of bumps, everyone was upbeat about what unfolded. At the same time, Jake Locker, working at the second quarterback, continued to show improvement and had a very nice night.

“I think I reverted back to some of my old stuff, but Geno [center Eugene Amano] and those guys up front did a great job of just hanging in there with me, snapping the ball,” Hasselbeck said. “I think I only went the wrong way once, that anybody noticed anyway.

“I have to learn it and I have to unlearn this stuff. What was once ‘green’ is now ‘red’ and what was ‘red’ is now ‘blue.’ In a competitive situation where everything is going real fast, everything just reverts.”

He said he’s getting way more from Locker, Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff then they are getting from him so far and that quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains has been a great resource for scouting reports on his new teammates.

Coach Mike Munchak said the increased tempo allowed him to add an extra red zone period at the end of practice.

Said receiver Justin Gage: “In a day or two Matt will be right there with the rest of us. You can tell just from today, he’s a fast learner, he learns from his mistakes.”

A few other notes out of the Titans’ evening session on Thursday:
  • Munchak indicated second-round pick Akeem Ayers is in line to play the strongside and Barrett Ruud was the first team middle linebacker out of the gate as you’d expect. That leaves the Titans with a battle between Will Witherspoon and Gerald McRath for the starting weakside job.
  • The Titans are blurring the line between free and string safety and Munchak declined to say Chris Hope is solidly in place as a starter before the new free agent acquisition, Jordan Babineaux, even walks in the door. He’ll get a chance to compete.
  • Titans’ union rep Jake Scott said he believes because there is only one company claiming it can accurately test for HGH, that he is skeptical of the accuracy of the testing. He’s for it in principle. “But their motives are questionable. Their incentive is to catch people,” he said. “If they don’t catch anybody, nobody thinks their test works.”

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