Come September, players on opposing defenses will have to go through Steve Hutchinson in order to get to the Tennessee Titans quarterbacks.
It will not be easy. One of the Titans’ prized offseason acquisitions, the veteran guard has been to the Pro Bowl seven times and named a first-team All-Pro five times in an 11-year career with Seattle and Minnesota.
As if that was not reason enough for Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and Rusty Smith to be fond of him already, Hutchinson quickly found another way into their hearts — through their stomachs. Earlier this offseason, he cooked for them.
“We grilled some steaks and had some collard greens and fried potatoes,” he said.
After three of the 10 organized team activities (OTAs) teams are allowed under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, Hutchinson is still working to fit in with an offensive line that remains unsettled.
He has been inserted at left guard. That spot belonged the last two years to Leroy Harris, who is still with the team. Right guard Jake Scott was not re-signed when he entered free agency. Plus, the team auditioned several free agent centers without signing any, but incumbent Eugene Amano has been unable to participate in the OTAs because he is on the mend from offseason surgeries.
On the strength of just one well-prepared dinner, though, he undeniably is in good with the quarterbacks.
“He’s scary good, actually,” Hasselbeck said. “Phenomenally good. … He had steak and sides. All the quarterbacks were very impressed. He’s quite domestic.”
Beyond his obvious ability to beef up the offensive line, the 6-foot-5, 313-pounder is an accomplished amateur chef who says he does some of his best work on the grill.
A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he was raised on traditional southern cuisine. He routinely hones his skills at home with his wife and two children and through his friendship with professional chef and Food Network star Guy Fieri.
“When we get together, he’s always cooking and I’m catching tips,” Hutchinson said. “Plus, I’m always eating. … Growing up, we were in a family that never went out to eat much. We were eating most of the time at home and my mom cooked the meals. I just learned early to be in the kitchen and help out.
“I enjoy it. My wife and I cook all the time.”
Some of his finest moments, he added, come on Saturday and Sunday mornings at this time of year, when he gets up early to make sure the kids are fed.
“I love cooking breakfast stuff,” he said. “My wife always says, ‘You should retire and be a short order cook at Waffle House or something.’ I love working the griddle.”
Eventually, he plans to serve up something for the rest of the offensive linemen but notes “that’s going to take a little more planning, being that there’s 13 or 14 of them.”
Hasselbeck said he had no memory of Hutchinson as a cook during the five seasons they played together in Seattle.
What he and the rest of the Titans hope most is that his skills on the field are no different than in those days. He made his first three Pro Bowls while with the Seahawks but has not been selected for the NFL’s all-star showcase since 2009.
“What you’ve done in the past doesn’t buy you anything in the locker room,” Hutchinson said. “You have to come out, be a leader, work hard and show you can still do your job. So that’s where I’m at right now — trying to earn the respect of the guys not having anything give to me, and show what I’m about and how I conduct my business.”
A well-cooked piece of meat can’t hurt, though.
• Running back Chris Johnson is a regular participant in the offseason training program for the first time since his rookie season.
In 2009 and 2010 he showed up for OTAs but did the bulk of his conditioning work in Florida. Last season, he missed all of training camp while he attempted to renegotiate his contract, which he eventually did.
He expects his approach this year to serve him well.
“This year is totally different, being able to come through the offseason and being in shape and being ready to go to the [training] camp,” he said. “Last year was a down year, but I always have a chip on my shoulder. I just want to come in and show my skills to my teammates.”
• Hasselbeck downplayed the idea that he and Locker are in competition with one another to be the starting quarterback this fall.
“The advice I give to guys over the years is you’re not really competing with guys at your position … because at this level you’re competing with everyone in the world they can find to replace you whether they are here yet or not,” he said. “I almost learned that lesson the hard way this year this offseason. That’s just reality.”
Hasselbeck, of course, waited and watched as the team pursued free agent Peyton Manning.