As the clock ticked down toward the two-minute warning Monday night, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and quarterback Kerry Collins stood inches from one another on the Tennessee Titans’ sideline and enjoyed a light-hearted moment.
There’s no telling how many times in the past three-plus weeks of training camp Tulloch had been that close to Collins or any of the team’s other quarterbacks. Whatever the number of times, that always was as close as he got because one written-in-stone rule of football practice is that you don’t hit the quarterback. Ever.
Contrast that with the moment earlier in the evening – 4:51 to play in the first quarter, to be exact – when Tulloch closed the distance – all of the distance – between himself and Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Matt Leinart. On a second-and-12 play, Tulloch blitzed, and although Leinart completed a pass, he didn’t just feel Tulloch’s presence, he felt Tulloch slam in to him as the ball came out.
It was just one of numerous thumps Cardinals’ quarterbacks absorbed in the Titans’ 24-10 preseason victory before a sellout crowd at LP Field.
“Nothing but good can come out of (hitting the quarterback) … unless you hit them late,” defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said. “That’s what the preseason is for, to get used to the live action. That’s part of it – you get to actually hit them. Getting after the quarterback and finishing plays, that’s the big thing.”
The Titans recorded only one sack but were oh so close to numerous others. They were credited with 10 hits on three Cardinals’ quarterbacks as they limited Arizona to 12 first downs, three third-down conversions and fewer than 300 yards of total offense.
Reserve defensive end Eric Bakhtiari had a game-high three hits in addition to half a sack, which he shared with Kareem Brown. Defensive tackle Jason Jones and defensive end Dave Ball had two hits apiece.
“Getting hits on quarterbacks always lets them know they have to probably be aware of us more and gets them off their thinking pattern and things like that,” Jones said. “It’s always good to get good licks on the quarterback and … wear them down.”
Leinart left the game before that happened. He played just the first quarter. Those who followed, Derek Anderson and Max Hall, eventually took their own licks.
Between them, the three passers connected on just 55 percent of their throws averaged just 5.85 yards per attempt. Leinart completed four of six passes but for a measly 28 yards.
By comparison, four Titans’ quarterbacks, who were hit a combined six times and sacked once, completed 57 percent of their throws and an average of 6.5 yards per try. Starter Vince Young was 9-13 for 128 yards.
“You don’t gameplan in preseason, so obviously there are some things that they are just going to get you on,” Leinart said. “It’s no excuse. You’ve got to move the ball better, and that falls on the quarterback.”
Still, it’s a bit more difficult when defensive players routinely fall on the quarterback, and in Leinart’s case it happened for the first time on Arizona’s first offensive play. That’s when safety Vincent Fuller came free on a blitz and delivered a blow similar to the one Tulloch did several minutes later.
“No quarterback wants to be hit on his first pass, especially if it’s a three-step drop,” Fuller said. “That’s something that they use to get in a rhythm. … He hit the ground on his first pass and was like, ‘Is this the type of night it’s going to be?’”
If the Titans have their way, that’s the type of season it’s going to be for all their opponents.
“You know how Chuck Cecil was when he played,” Tulloch said. “He was a beast, a guy who got after it, a nasty player. So we have to be nasty too on defense and have that violent attitude.
“It’s a violent game and anytime you can get a ht on the quarterback you want to make him feel it.”
Of course, the only time you can do that is in the games.