If nothing else, the Tennessee Titans’ preseason opener inspired confidence that those in charge of the franchise’s most significant change in well over a decade thus far have made the right moves.
The players can go back to work Monday comfortable in the plan of coach Mike Munchak and his array of new assistants. Munchak can feel good about the influx of talent sent to him by general manager Mike Reinfeldt. And the crowd of 69,143 at attendance at LP Field [not everyone showed up] on Saturday no doubt feels better about any plans for return visits this fall.
It was just a preseason game, after all, but much of what Munchak said he considered critical to success when he succeeded Jeff Fisher, who had the job for more than 16 seasons, was apparent in the 14-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think it was important for us just to see it, for the young guys just to understand what the new ideas are going to be and to get everybody on the same page is what it really comes down to,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “…“This was kind of a place where we could put our foot in the ground and get started.
“… I think we feel good about a lot of things.”
Central to the offseason overhaul was quarterback. Free agent Matt Hasselbeck was signed and Jake Locker was drafted eighth overall with the hope that their partnership would provide the type of harmony and long-term stability at the position that never materialized in five years with Kerry Collins and Vince Young.
Hasselbeck and Locker completed a combined 12 of 15 passes for 144 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions as the Titans built a 14-0 halftime lead. Locker, who came on after one series, stayed in the game for the first post-halftime possession and attempted just one more throw before he finally came out.
“I thought as a whole the team played really well,” Locker (7-10, 89 yards, one touchdown) said. “It starts up front. I think our offensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage in the running game and protecting the quarterback in the passing game, which allows your offense to have consistency. … I thought [the] same thing on defense. I thought we were able to get pressure up front with just four-man rushes and they were able to control the running game.”
Both touchdowns came off of turnovers. Players new to the defense created both turnovers.
Third-round draft pick Jurrell Casey, a 300-pound defensive tackle who is part of a concerted effort to get bigger on the defensive front, stripped running back Lorenzo Booker and then fell on the ball with 5:03 to play in the first half. One play later, Tennessee led 7-0 on a 45-yard Locker touchdown pass.
Safety Jordan Babineaux – like Hasselbeck, a free agent acquisition out of Seattle – ended Minnesota’s next drive after three plays when he intercepted quarterback Joe Webb. Tennessee turned that one into the 14-point advantage fewer than two minutes later on a 2-yard touchdown run by Jamie Harper, another member of the 2011 draft class.
“I talked to the players [Saturday] morning when we met – I just said we all know it is a preseason [game], but no matter what you do you [want to] win,” Munchak said. “… I told them once you put that jersey on and go out on Saturday night and put your hand in the dirt, you want to compete and play. No matter how many plays you are going to play, that should be your attitude.”
From the moment in January that he took control of things, Munchak promised a more disciplined and professional approach from his players.
The Titans did not commit a turnover, although they fumbled three times, and they had just five penalties – none against the defense – called against them. They also got the best of time of possession – particularly in the first half.
“It was a good chance for [Munchak] to show what direction we’re going in and what direction he’s taking the team,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “The first day it was really clear and precise what he expected from us and what direction he was taking the team.
“So we kind of know what our goals are and what’s expected of us.”
• Players presented Munchak with the game ball to commemorate his first experience as a head coach in game conditions.
• Free agent wide receiver Yamon Figurs scored the first touchdown on a 45-yard reception. That matched the Titans’ longest pass play of the 2010 preseason.
“I didn’t keep the ball,” Figurs said. “It’s preseason.”
• The Titans had four sacks – three of them by second-year players (Morgan, Myron Rolle and Pete Ittersagen) and one by a rookie (Zach Clayton).
• Wide receiver Kenny Britt (hamstring), defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (shoulder), safety Nick Schommer (hamstring), safety Robert Johnson (hamstring) and linebacker John Stokes (shoulder) did not dress due to injury issues.