Kenny Britt joked that he felt “old” during his first full practice in nearly a year.
Perhaps that had less to do with the litany of injuries and surgeries that have slowed the 23-year-old wide receiver throughout his three-plus NFL seasons than with the company he kept during his one-week suspension for violation of league policy.
The Tennessee Titans wide receiver spent time last week with three of the franchise’s “old-timers,” for lack of a better term, in preparation for his much-anticipated return to the team.
“There was no days off for me,” he said. “I was working out — I lifted in the morning and was on the field at Franklin [Road] Academy with Neil O’Donnell and Derrick Mason and Nick Harper throwing the ball around to me. [I was] trying to get the feel of being in football instead of running routes against the air and doing cone drills.”
It has been a long time since the 2009 first-round draft pick was involved in real football, but unlike his temporary training partners he is nowhere near a part of the Titans’ past.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds his size, speed and playmaking ability are considered vital to Tennessee’s attempt to stay current in a league that featured more Week 1 passing yards than in any previous season. His future, though, seems anything but guaranteed given his knack for getting hurt, which seems to happen just when he starts to play his best.
“Train hard — that’s what I’ve been doing more than I ever did the last four years that I’ve been here,” Britt said. “I’ve been training harder this offseason than anything. I’ve been trying to get in the cold tub more. Get rehabbed, get stretched more before I go out there and start running. And I’ve been feeling good.”
Currently at — or near — full health, Britt took part in every phase of Wednesday’s workout, albeit in a limited fashion. He wore small sleeves on both knees but no extra support.
His exact role in Sunday’s game at San Diego (4:25 p.m., CBS) has not been determined.
“I think he can definitely add a lot,” rookie cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who worked against Britt at times in practice, said. “I’ve just been going off what I’ve been hearing all the other [defensive backs] telling me — he’s really good.
“… It’s kind of hard to judge off one day but he definitely looked good for his first day out there.”
Britt was one of the NFL’s leading receivers through the first two weeks of 2011. He caught 14 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns before a knee injury against Denver on Sept. 25 ended his season and led to multiple surgeries, the first of them a reconstructive procedure. That kept him on the sidelines throughout offseason training and earned him a spot on the physically unable to perform list throughout training camp.
A year earlier he had a breakout performance of seven catches, 225 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Philadelphia but sustained a hamstring tear that sidelined him for a month the next week at San Diego.
After a rookie season in which he led the team with 701 receiving yards, therefore, Britt has played just 19 out of 33 games but has scored at least one touchdown in nine of those and has averaged better than 20 yards per reception in five.
“He’s just a guy who can do a lot of different things,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “… He’s dangerous once he has the ball in his hands. He breaks tackles. He makes guys miss and can [turn] short, easy throws into long, special plays.”
One thing he has not done is stay out of trouble off the field.
He has been arrested more than half a dozen times during the course of his career, the latest for suspicion of drunk driving last June.
That earned him his first suspension, the one-week ban imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and announced just prior to the Titans’ preseason finale. As a result, he was not with the team last week an, he said, watched Sunday’s 34-13 loss to the New England Patriots at home with his wife and his daughter.
“So far, so good [Wednesday],” coach Mike Munchak said. “… He hasn’t played in a year so there’s a lot of things he has to get used to, mentally and physically, and then we’ll see how he does Thursday and Friday, and decide how we can use him, what he does well and how we think he can help us on Sunday without putting too much of a burden on him.
“When you have a great player, you want to use him badly but we have to be smart in how we do that.”