Peyton Manning arrived at Baptist Sports Park Wednesday.
And he is in the very room where the Tennessee Titans' defensive linemen meet.
No, this isn’t another Spygate-type saga. It’s a life-size Fathead of the Indianapolis Colts quarterback that the Titans defensive linemen are charged with stopping when Indy visits LP Field for Monday Night Football.
“He’s over there staring at us. We’ve got him on the wall,” defensive end Jevon Kearse said. “We’ve got a Fathead up there. It’s just a reminder that we need to get real close and personal with him, just an early reminder.”
Manning has long been a mostly elusive target for the Titans defense over the years. They sacked him twice for 12 yards in the first meeting last year, but in five of the past six meetings between the Titans and Colts, the Titans did not sack Manning once. All total, the Titans have sacked Manning just 11 times in 13 games against him.
A defensive line that has produced 16.5 of Tennessee’s 18 sacks thus far knows it must get to Manning in order to disrupt Indianapolis’ passing game.
“I’m just looking at getting after Peyton,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. “That’s the whole key, just to get him off the spot to hit him as many times as possible, just to rattle him. That’s our whole goal as a defensive front. You go in our room, and you see that Fathead of Peyton on our wall. It just got here today, so we’re ready for him.”
The “visit” from Manning apparently comes courtesy of Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn, and that is not the only reminder of the task at hand for Tennessee’s defensive line on Monday night.
“This is a special occasion,” Kearse said. “As a matter of fact, we have a fridge with our drinks _ our Gatorades and our water _ in there, and we’ve got a number 18 on that too.”
Through Indy’s 3-3 start, Manning has been a bit easier to reach, having been sacked nine times thus far. The Colts have been starting of late rookies at both guard positions with Jamey Richard on the left and Mike Pollak on the right. Center Jeff Saturday missed time earlier in the season as well, and there is the fact that Manning himself is coming off two surgeries to his left knee, which had to have a bursa sac removed.
It adds up to the Titans defensive line, which has been banged up with injuries to Kyle Vanden Bosch and Tony Brown of late, needing to get more pressure on Manning than they traditionally have been able to do in enhance their chances of winning their seventh straight game Monday night.
“Any year, in past years, we’ve needed to get him off his spot. This year is no different,” Haynesworth said. “We’ve got a great defensive line and got a great defense, so we plan on getting pressure on him.
“He’s not as accurate running and throwing the ball. He’s more of a timing quarterback. He can [run], but he doesn’t create things well when everything is going crazy.”
Kearse echoed that sentiment as well.
“That’s who we want. He’s the key to the whole thing,” Kearse said. “So we get to him as early and often as we can, and then we can have some fun.”
And maybe no more “visits” from Manning.
Present: Running back Chris Johnson’s stunt of playing the bongo drums after his 66-yard touchdown run in Kansas City landed him a present on Wednesday — a set of bongo drums for his very own.
“I don’t know who it was. You’ve got to talk to [Jeff] Fisher. They gave it to me at the team meeting,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s antics at the end of the Titans’ victory over the Chiefs netted him a 15-yard penalty after the play and like will earn him some sort of fine from the NFL before the week is over.
Asked what he will do the bongo drums, Johnson said, “I’m going to find some place in my house to put them.”
Johnson said he told teammate Lavelle Hawkins in pre-game warm-ups that if he scored in that end zone, he would do something involving the drums.
“I told him if I scored down there, I was going to do something with the bongos,” Johnson said. Johnson added that had Hawkins scored, he was probably headed toward the drums as well.
The rookie, who leads the AFC in rushing with 549yards, said he might not be finished with celebration antics.
“I’ve got a lot of creative ideas. I’ve just got to pick the right time to do them,” Johnson said.
So will he wait until another blowout game, so as not to hurt the team in a close game with a penalty, when he celebrates a score?
“I don’t really even think Jeff thinks it’s OK even when it’s like that. I’ve got some ideas, and I feel I’ll pick the right time to do them,” Johnson said. “This is not a one-time deal. I don’t think it’ll be a one-time deal.
Injuries: Defensive tackle Tony Brown (ankle) and receiver Justin Gage (knee) both returned to practice in limited fashion, each with support braces to help them cope with the injuries.
Meanwhile, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) and receiver Justin McCareins (hamstring) did not practice during Wednesday light workout, and neither did linebacker Colin Allred, who suffered a groin strain against the Chiefs.
Fisher indicated that all these players would be “day-to-day.”
Gage has not played since injuring his right knee in the Titans’ win over Minnesota, and practiced for the first time Wednesday, doing work in individual drills.
Gage said playing on Monday night this week could help his chances of returning.
“It gets you another day of rest and another day of treatment,” Gage said.
Asked if he would play against the Colts, Gage said, “I definitely feel like I want to, but it just depends on how the week go. I wanted to go [against Kansas City]. But I didn’t think I was ready to go, and the coaches didn’t think I was ready to go, so we just pulled back and wait until I’m 100 percent.”
The Titans were without both starting receivers against the Chiefs as McCareins was sidelined as well.
“It’s getting there. I’m just working as hard as I can to get back,” McCareins said. “We’re taking it day-by-day. In my mind, I’m trying to get ready to play this week. It’s an important game for us. It’s the big stage and a very tough opponent, and I’d love to be out there.”