published Monday, August 6th, 2012

Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons are both excited

Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) runs after a catch against Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (52) and Tennessee Titans strong safety Jordan Babineaux (26).
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) runs after a catch against Tennessee Titans middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (52) and Tennessee Titans strong safety Jordan Babineaux (26).
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Once a proud Georgia Bulldog, Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon still has great respect for the Peach State's NFL franchise, the Atlanta Falcons.

"They're a great team, a great bunch of guys, I think we have a good relationship with them," he said last Thursday when asked about this evening's joint practice at Coahulla Creek High School.

Still ...

"Once the competitiveness kicks in you never know what will happen," Witherspoon added. "Even a practice can get pretty heated."

The temperature can heat almost any August football practice to the boiling point, particularly one that's set to begin at 4:30 p.m.

But Falcons coach Mike Smith says there will be strict limits as to just how rough the contact can be a little more than a week into training camp.

"We will work against their first group but it will not be full speed," Smith said. "There will be no tackling, and we won't be taking anybody to the ground."

That doesn't mean both sides aren't looking forward to it.

"It's always good to practice against somebody else," said Witherspoon, who added, "I've heard from several Georgia fans who plan to be there."

Added second-year Titans coach Mike Munchak, "I know our guys are going to enjoy taking a break from hitting each other. When I was at Houston I always enjoyed practicing against the [Dallas] Cowboys. But it's really just football 101. We'll both keep it simple."

The idea sounds simple. Get two pro football teams together roughly halfway between their two Southern cities for a glorified practice session.

"But it's not near as easy as it looks," said Mike Keith, the voice of the Titans who spent much of his youth in Chattanooga. "This is really the Falcons' practice and we've been working out the details with them for weeks."

Both sides would like to make the practice an annual event, the Falcons hosting at a Georgia high school near Chattanooga one year (as they are today), then the Titans returning the favor the next summer at a Tennessee high school near the border.

However, because both teams decided they would only practice on natural grass fields, preferred locations such as Finley Stadium, McCallie, Baylor and Ridgeland High were automatically excluded due to artificial turf.

There's also the NFL's preseason schedule to worry about, particularly if either the Falcons or Titans wind up in the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

"It's got to work logistically for their camp and our camp and some years that might be hard to do," Keith said.

But that can all be worked out later.

For now, Chattanooga area fans of both the Titans and Falcons can watch their NFL heroes practice for free, collect autographs afterward and help out Whitfield County athletic programs with their concession stand purchases.

Said Witherspoon on Sunday evening: "When you get a chance to practice against someone else, and the fact that we're traveling down there for it, it kind of gives a game-time appeal to it. We're definitely excited."

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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