DALTON, Ga. – The ball did not end up on the ground often. Then again, the same was true of bodies.
Everything was not necessarily as it seemed Monday when the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons got together at a modern high school stadium for a joint workout that attracted a crowd of 8,627, which was decidedly pro-Falcons.
“They’re throwing balls down the middle of the field and our safeties are letting them catch it,” middle linebacker Colin McCarthy said. “If fans get their cheering, fine. But we know if you throw a ball across the middle in a game our safeties are going to light them up.”
The important things to the Titans’ defense, particularly the secondary, were those that they had not seen during the first week-plus of training camp.
In particular, the caliber of the Falcons’ best pass catchers was noticeably different. Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones both were first-round picks. The former has been to the Pro Bowl three times and was a first-team All-Pro once during his seven seasons. Then there was tight end Tony Gonzalez, a 12-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro not to mention a sure-fire Hall of Famer once (if) he ever retires.
Tennessee has two first-round wide receivers of its own. However, one, Kenny Britt, has not taken part in any of the workouts because of offseason knee surgery and spent the day in New York at a disciplinary hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The other, rookie Kendall Wright, missed the first five days of camp due to protracted contract negotiations.
“Of course they made plays but you also have to give them credit,” safety Michael Griffin said. “… It’s just a great opportunity to come out here. They have a great offense. Gonzalez, Julio, Roddy White. [Michael] Turner – that’s a great offense.”
Led by quarterback Matt Ryan there were times when that’s exactly how it looked.
Ryan consistently was on target as he spread the ball around to his abundance of targets. He went entire periods during which every delivery ended up in the hands of the intended receiver. Two of his last four throws in a red zone period that capped the day went for touchdowns, one to White from 16 yards and the last to Gonzalez from the 8.
Yet the last play by the Falcons’ starting offense was a third-and-goal from the 6. Ryan completed his throw to White, but cornerback Jason McCourty was in position and likely would have made a tackle short of the goal line in game situations.
“They play a different scheme than our defense, so it’s good work for us on knowing our assignments, doing those kind of things,” Ryan said. “We didn’t gameplan or anything like that to prepare for them in any way. So it’s good test to know how well we know our stuff. For the most part I thought we did a really good job of that.”
In contrast, Wright – in just his third day of full work – showed he still has some things to learn. He was the intended receiver on two passes from Matt Hasselbeck that veteran Falcons’ cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted.
“Any young receiver is going to have those issues when the lights go on,” Hasselbeck said. “Both those reps were Cover 0 reps, which our defense has not done that. … Those will be opportunities for our X receiver to make plays. That’s one-on-one. Those are the opportunities for whoever the quarterback and the receiver are to make plays.
“Those were two opportunities we had [Monday] and we didn’t capitalize on them.”
Much the way the team’s defensive backs did not seize opportunities to deliver some punishment.
“I’ve been working on my angles,” Griffin said. “Last year I had issues with that. I was working on getting in the right position so you can make a good tackle or whatever it may be. I believe I got a lot out of [Monday].
“I gave one shot but I didn’t go all the way through. I really feel like if I had run all the way through … it wouldn’t have been a catch. I know I hit him in the back and he fell. Coach said, ‘Let up.’”
Had it been a game, no one would have said any such thing – and things would have looked different on occasion.
• Cornerback Terrence Wheatley and linebacker Alex Watkins both left the workout early due to injuries.
Coach Mike Munchak said Wheatley’s issue most likely was a cramp. Watkins was hurt when got stepped on during punt protection work and the hope was that it was not a serious injury.
Tackle David Stewart (knee), center Kevin Matthews (concussion), tight end Brandon Barden (hamstring) and defensive end Dave Ball (personal reasons) did not travel with the team for the session.
• Munchak declined to comment on Britt’s situation. He called it a personal matter but said the team hopes to know in a couple days whether the fourth-year veteran will be suspended under the league’s personal conduct policy.