If Tennessee Titans fans are looking for a starting position battle to shape up in this training camp, well, save for an unforeseen injury, they’re pretty much out of luck.
But there are key battles shaping up elsewhere on the roster, and nowhere is battle more heated than for the third running back position behind Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
Last year, Chris Henry had the position in name only, but because of special teams needs, Henry was inactive for all but one game, and Quinton Ganther served as the third back on game day.
This season, the ante for that role(s) has been upped as the Titans added to the mix by drafting Javon Ringer out of Michigan State in the fifth round, and also have Rafael Little returning from a knee injury that wiped out his rookie year.
The job requirement hasn’t changed much in 2009. Even running backs coach Earnest Byner admits special teams play will be a determining factor in deciding who will be on the roster.
“It’s the running backs coach saying this, but special teams is going to be key for those guys too. How they contribute to what Alan [Lowry] is doing will be a big indictor as well,” Byner said.
In that regard, the veteran Ganther might have an edge, as special teams helped keep him on the 53-man roster a year ago.
“They know I can play and me being able to play on special teams helps out tremendously,” Ganther said. “Special teams will keep you around here, because special teams is a vital aspect of this game. I’ve been here going on four years, so they know what I can do. I just have to go out day in and day out and produce.”
Ganther will still have to earn his keep on the roster, as Ringer has been impressive and has been getting plenty work early in camp as the No. 3 man in the rotation. Ringer believes with five preseason games, there will be enough carries for all the backup backs to showcase themselves.
“I’m pretty sure Chris [Johnson] and LenDale aren’t going to do too much, and that will give all us other running backs the good chance to go in there and compete,” Ringer said.
But what about special teams?
“My freshman year [at Michigan State] I played a lot of special teams, but that was about it. I haven’t done it in years, but it’s all part of football,” Ringer said.
As for the others in the mix, Little proclaims himself completely healed from the torn ACL that dropped him from likely mid-round pick to undrafted free agent a year ago.
“I learned the plays, and had plenty of time to watch film and it helped me out,” Little said, “but I still feel like a rookie, though.”
The former University of Kentucky star could certainly earn himself some points in the eyes of the coach staff if he can win either the kickoff or punt return job.
“I’m going to try both. Wherever I can fit in at, I’m going to try to fit,” Little said.
As for Henry, he seems to be the forgotten man after being a 2007 second-round pick. He knows this camp could be make or break with all the added competition and his lack of playing time a year ago.
“I just know that I have to play to the best of my ability. Me doing that along with contributing on special teams, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Henry, who did not have a role a year ago. “There’s always an opportunity everywhere, and sometimes you’ve just got to make one.
“They’ve been bringing in guys since I’ve been here. They brought in guys with me. That’s the basis of sports, and in competition overall, the more people you have, the better the competition.”
Byner says that is certainly the case with this group of running backs who are competing for one or perhaps two roster spots.
“From a backfield perspective, it’s the ability to compete every day. It’s got to be game-like for them, because if you slip any, then the next guy is looking to move in,” Byner said. “Being able to handle that pressure on a daily basis is going to be huge for those guys.”