- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:
Late in the pre-practice walk-through when the offense and defense work independent of each other, offensive assistant Luke Steckel, who was running the scout team, shouted that he needed a nickelback. Dexter McCluster, the team’s new veteran running back, was ready and willing and started to head out to play the role. Michael Preston then jumped in and did the job. But McCluster certainly doesn’t think of himself as above it.
Wide receiver drills can be a real gauntlet under position coach Shawn Jefferson. Monday’s was a furious pace with one very tough segment. Players change direction running between tightly spaced upside-down garbage cans, needing to get their head around super-fast each time they turned to catch a close-range dart being whistled right at them.
The linebackers fared well overall in the one-on-one period against running backs and tight ends. Zach Brown did well to cover Shonn Greene in the flat. Akeem Ayers prevented a completion to McCluster. Moise Fokou laid a big hit on Jackie Battle. Battle recovered and made a catch, but Fokou announced in a game situation that Battle never would have regained a visual connection with his quarterback. Patrick Bailey had a very good coverage snap against Delanie Walker. When the drill moved to pass protection, the linebackers also rushed well. Kamerion Wimbley was particularly good. Rookie running back Bishop Sankey stood out as a positive on offense to me, particularly on one snap when he stood up Colin McCarthy.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh was the starter Monday, as the Titans continued to rotate him with Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Taylor Lewan continued to get the bulk of the work at left guard, where Andy Levitre is recovering from having his appendix removed.
To illustrate something small I’ve written for ESPN The Magazine, I’ve been on the lookout for a Jake Locker-to-McCluster dump-off pass. Perhaps because I needed it, I haven’t seen it. But Charlie Whitehurst has connected with Leon Washington in a second-team version.
Linebacker Tig Willard laid the first giant hit of camp in a team period, popping Sankey with a loud and attention-getting run stop. Wesley Woodyard put a good pop on Delanie Walker, separating him from the ball on a pass over the middle. Mike Martin delivered one of several big hits on McCluster.
In a one-on-one pass-rush period, Lewan did some nice work, showing strength versus the mammoth Ropati Pitoitua and handling Karl Klug. But Jurrell Casey pretty much flew by Lewan. Sammie Hill tipped Chance Warmack over at one point. Coaches blew the whistle pretty quickly to end each snap.
Whitehurst floated a pretty pass over rookie Marqueston Huff into the arms of Marc Mariani, who continues to play well. Whitehurst looks to loft most of his deep stuff on that high arc where a ball can drop in.
Veteran receiver Derek Hagan has been solid and looks like he can get into the mix with Mariani and Michael Preston for the fourth and fifth spots in the receiving corps.
Nate Washington showed good burst on a pretty reverse and coach Ken Whisenhunt joked they brought the elder statesman out of the archives for the play.
Former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck watched practice and could not talk highly enough about Jackie Battle, who’s working at the front-line fullback. “He played like you are supposed to play on the first day in pads,” Bulluck said.