It’s difficult to tell who is happier to be back — Jevon Kearse or Justin McCareins.
Both are extremely glad to be wearing a Tennessee Titans uniform again, even if Kearse is the one that more readily wears his emotions on his No. 90 sleeve.
But the Titans haven’t brought that duo back to Nashville for sentimental reasons. They still believe both players can help them win and are counting on both of them to be major contributors in need areas.
Kearse, starting mostly at left end in the organized team activities, bristled at the suggestion last week that he was back with the Titans only to be a situational pass rusher.
“Who said that? I haven’t heard that. I can’t even subject myself to speculate on that,” Kearse said. “If they know what’s good for them, that’s what they’ll do [is play me all the time]. Playing every down, that’s what I’m looking for.”
Kearse, 31, is entering his 10th year in the NFL, but returning to Tennessee has him as giddy as he was when he was a bright-eyed Defensive Rookie of the Year on the Titans’ AFC Championship team in 1999.
“It feels great to be back and to get into my comfort zone again,” Kearse said. “I walked through the hallway over there and they’ve got pictures of when we were in the Super Bowl, and I was like, ‘Man, it was that long ago.’ I say it’s about time to create some new memories around here.”
Kearse is eager also to erase some of the bitter memories that came with his four-year stay in Philadelphia.
McCareins, too, is looking for a fresh start in his return as he languished mostly as a backup the past two years with the New York Jets.
“It feels great. It feels like I never left,” McCareins said. “There’s a lot of new faces, but in terms of the coaching staff and Coach [Mike] Heimerdinger being back in the building, it’s just a good feeling. It’s a rejuvenating feeling.”
McCareins handled first-team receiver reps along with Justin Gage last week as Roydell Williams remains out with an ankle problem.
Heimerdinger’s return was also a drawing card for McCareins, 29, as his career blossomed under the offensive coordinator’s tutelage. Just as defensive line coach Jim Washburn was an attraction for Kearse to return, McCareins said Heimerdinger’s system hasn’t changed and is a good fit for him.
“There are little tweaks here and there, but for the most part, it’s the same thing, and he expects the same things out of receivers. It’s nice to know what you’re dealing with when you have a coordinator that you’ve played for,” McCareins said.
Also, McCareins said the talk that the Titans’ wide receiving corps is the weak link on the team gives the group something to prove heading into 2008.
“It’s fine to be criticized or to be that maybe you’re a weak spot on the team, but we know what we can do out there,” McCareins said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go out and continue to improve and go out and have a hell of a year as a receiving group.”
Of course, some things have changed a bit for both players — primarily the names and faces of their teammates. Only four players remain from a roster that was almost totally stripped down and rebuilt shortly after their departures.
“The hardest part is just trying to learn everyone’s names,” Kearse said. “Once we get on the field in training camp and put on the pads, then we’ll learn how guys play and learning the guys we count on, guys that need you to push them and the guys that you can say stuff to and stuff like that. It’s all about getting to know each other once we get to know each other and get into the groove of things.”