Wiedmer: Titans glad for shot at new start

Wiedmer: Titans glad for shot at new start

July 31st, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

NASHVILLE -- Finally, they could laugh. For nearly five months there had mostly been anger, frustration and doubt from the National Football League's players over the owners locking them out.

But Saturday evening, having worked out in helmets for the first time under a sweltering sun, the Tennessee Titans allowed a giggle or two about the end of the lockout and the unanimous recertification of the players' union.

"I heard the [Oakland] Raiders were going to abstain, just like [owner] Al Davis," Titans union player rep Jake Scott said with a chuckle. "I half-expected them not to vote."

A few feet away, troubled Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt -- who was arrested twice in two months during the extended offseason, including resisting arrest after being suspected of smoking a marijuana cigar at a New Jersey car wash -- said his teammates had a singular bit of advice for the Rutgers product: "Stay out of New Jersey."

A few feet on the other side of Scott stood defensive tackle Shaun Smith, the former South Carolina star and recent Kansas City Chief who's entering his eighth NFL season.

"I talk trash, talk smack and I back it up," Smith said. "I've got a family to feed."

So it's on again. Both the NFL and its almost equally important cottage industry -- fantasy football.

And just to make sure the Titans could instantly appreciate the difference they'll see in new coach Mike Munchak compared to former coach Jeff Fisher -- who resigned last January after 16 full seasons -- Munchak introduced music to the start of practice.

"I couldn't stretch out," Nate Washington said. "I was dancing too much."

Asked if any of those songs, including Lady Gaga's "Poker Face," were on his iPod, Munchak replied, "They are on my daughter's iPod, but not necessarily mine. But it's a good beat, so that's all you want."

Perhaps this is why Washington also said of Munchak, "He understands it's a tough game, but he pushes us the right way."

Everyone -- players, coaches and fans alike -- is trying to figure out the right way to push the lockout behind them, even as serious issues between the newly re-formed union and owners must be resolved before the new collective bargaining agreement can become official.

For instance, Britt's legal troubles occurred after the lockout and the decertification of the union.

Said Scott of the union's stance on the league office's ability to discipline Britt for his behavior: "We all got a [notice] of legal separation from this team. So they should have nothing to say about what happened during the lockout. We won't soften on that stance one bit."

Still, the strike's over, right? The Titans will host Minnesota on Saturday, Aug. 13, right? Right?

"It's still not done," Scott said. "I'm still not 100 percent sure."

But assuming it is done, Munchak appears to be making all the right moves, beginning with a video he played for the team Friday that introduced the entire coaching staff.

"I think that was really important," said fourth-year defensive back Michael Griffin. "When Mike first got the job, he pulled me aside one day and said, 'You're entering your fourth year and we've never spoken to each other. I need to change that.' It meant a lot."

What also meant a lot to Griffin was what he learned on the video about the entire staff.

"Not one guy had not played football on at least the collegiate level," he said. "So they know what we're going through; they understand how tough it is out there."

Rookie quarterback Jake Locker doesn't understand. Not really. And until 13-year veteran Matt Hasselbeck dresses for Thursday's practice, Locker is pretty much alone under center, learning the toughest position in team sports without a mentor.

"It's like the difference from high school to college," said the University of Washington product. "It's a big jump. The best players in the world are out here on this field. But it was fun. We've all been waiting a long time to get out here."

The Titans have been waiting a long time to return to being the kind of team that reached a Super Bowl at the dawn of the new millennium. They won only 14 of 32 games their final two seasons under Fisher.

Said Washington of the coaching change at the top: "I really don't want to get into comparisons, but Mike's going to work us; he's not going to let anything slide."

Because on the field, where both seasons and careers are won and lost, the Titans have slid too much.