NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans wrapped up their three-day mini-camp and nine-week offseason program on Thursday by racing sideline to sideline, firing rapid passes and making several goal-line stands.
The competitions, however, were not standard football drills or game situations of offense vs. defense. Instead, teams competed in wooden training sled races, where two or three individuals showed a training sled across the field. After that, an equipment manager strapped on pads and a helmet and drove a passing target mounted on the back of a golf cart across the field as players — except for the quarterbacks — took aim at the throwing net. The day concluded with several tug of war bouts that took place near an end zone. A team of offensive players from multiple positions defeated a similar team of defenders in the finale.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said the players earned the fun way to end camp by how they have worked and progressed through organized team activities this offseason.
“I think we all won in the end,” Munchak said. “Great tug of war. I think it was something we could all get into. These guys love competing with everything they do. They do a lot of similar things like this on Friday during the offseason program, so we were thinking we would wait and see how practice went over the last nine weeks. That last practice is always a tough one, anyway, to get the quality work you want, so we were thinking about something more team-oriented and have a little fun with it.”
Players participated in a team-wide workout and meetings Thursday morning before breaking for several weeks until training camp opens at the end of next month.
“I give them all the same message,” Munchak said. “It’s just another stage of the offseason. Even though they’re on their own to do their thing and get away from this building and the coaches and each other for a while, it’s still a time to be focused and know what you’re coming back to, make sure they're working out, doing all the things that are important, making good decisions when they’re out with their friends.
Players said they welcome the breather between now and camp but they plan on staying sharp mentally and in shape physically. The break will allow them to work on both areas while visiting family and friends in their hometowns.
“I think we’ve had a really good OTAs and mini-camp,” fifth-year tight end
Stevens said the gap will allow players to prepare themselves for the rigors of training camp, which will include some two-a-day practices, some practices with pads and likely include even warmer temperatures than this week’s mini-camp that have all been around 90 degrees.
“It’s going to be nice to take a break,” Stevens said. “We’ve been going for the past nine weeks pretty much every day, so it’s going to be good to get a break and get ready for (camp).”
The return of the full offseason program has allowed offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray to install more of their schemes.
Ayers said the offseason program has made a “huge difference.”
“Once you get an offseason, you can learn what the coaches expect from you, what they want you to do, and you get a feel for how everything is run around here,” Ayers said. “So it’s a huge advantage when you get to be here for a full offseason, rather than being here for a month and jumping right into the season.”
Ayers said the goal for the defense will be to retain what it has worked on so far so that training camp won’t be like starting over.
“You just take all the things that you learned here — everything the coaches taught you, everything they told you, how they want you to play this and you can just take what you’ve learned and build on it,” Ayers said. “You already know how it’s run here.”
Munchak said he wants his coaching staff to take a break as well before starting training camp. The Scranton, Pa., native plans to return to Northeast Pennsylvania for part of the break.
“Oh yeah, the thing with the coaches, you have to get out of town or you will keep coming in the office,” Munchak said. “I think most people that enjoy their job or like their job, it is kind of hard because you feel like you keep getting called in because there is always something you could do. I think the further you get away from it, the more likely you are to take a break.”
Palmer said he plans on going to a residence in Massachusetts, but said football will be on his mind when he sits by the pool. He joked about the proximity to the New England Patriots, who open the 2012 season against the Titans at LP Field.
“I’m going to be at the cabana. The pool water will be 82 degrees. It will be very, very nice,” Palmer said. “I can’t turn (football) off. I’ll be thinking about our first game. In fact, I’m in the New England area. If (the Patriots) want to practice, I’ll be happy to come up and watch them for a while. I don’t think Coach (Bill) Belichick would like that.”
Gray plans to spend some time in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, but said he will also be thinking about football.
“For the most part, you’re still thinking about it,” Gray said. “You’re kind of thinking about what your guys are doing. Are they holding up their end of the bargain? When you’re off for four weeks, that’s a lot if guys are not working out. When they come back, they’re going to be out of shape and that’s the biggest concern as a coach.”
Munchak said time management is the key to players having a break while keeping in shape and being prepared for training camp.
“The hard part is you have to remember that it is almost like it is hard to relax the first week when you get away and all of a sudden you kind of get in a relaxation mode,” Munchak said. “I think it is more of having a plan for doing your workouts and what you are going to need to do to stay in shape because you want to maintain what you have.
“I think you need a break but you have to find that fine line between maintaining and finding an hour a day to do some running or lifting, but in between all that have fun with your family,” Munchak continued. “I’m sure most of the guys will have vacation and get away and that is a good thing, but we will be back here pretty quick and it is 95 degrees out so they want to make sure they are doing some conditioning.”