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Camp Notebook: Justin Hunter's Tough Ears, Demeanor Part of Rookie's Progress

Posted Aug 12, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The eyes to see the ball and the hands to secure it are frequently praised, as well as height, quickness, speed or leaping ability during evaluations of wide receivers, but ears, rarely, if ever, enter those conversations.

Justin Hunter hauls in a catch on a deep pass from Jake Locker during a one-on-one drill against fellow rookie Khalid Wooten.
Click here for a slideshow from Monday.

There’s been days during Tennessee’s offseason program and training camp when rookie Justin Hunter has demonstrated his eyes, hands and overall athleticism to make highlight-style catches. There’s also been moments of rookie mistakes that have been followed by stinging criticism from receivers coach Shawn Jefferson.

While his ears should be blazing, Hunter has appeared to maintain a calm demeanor as he looks Jefferson in the eyes to receive the feedback.

“One thing he always says is never take anything personal, just listen and learn,” Hunter said.

Is that difficult?

“At first,” Hunter said. “If you get a new coach, you don’t know what is going to happen or what you’re expecting but as time goes on you get used to it.”

Jefferson calls the coaching process throwing “them in the fire” to simulate as much adversity in practices so it’s already been faced and is hopefully conquered in games.

“I’ve been putting Justin in some bad situations because that’s just how it is,” Jefferson said. “Some of the situations I knew that the odds were pretty much stacked against him out there but you have to do that in order for him to get the look. Receivers learn best when they go through the fire and I’ve been trying to put him through as many fires throughout this training camp so when we get to Pittsburgh (for the season opener on Sept. 8) we’re battle ready.”

Jefferson said Hunter “hasn’t frustrated me at all,” adding I’ve had lesser frustrations with him than I did coaching (Calvin Johnson). Jefferson, who joined the Titans this offseason, said he’s tried to learn a lot about each receiver and learn “what buttons to push … to get them to respond.” He said Hunter is “pretty much an even-keel guy” when receiving the feedback, but that wouldn’t have mattered to Jefferson.  

“We really don’t give him a choice,” Jefferson said. “This is a big boy league and we’ve got to go.”

Kenny Britt, a first-round pick in 2009, said he can relate to Hunter, who was drafted 34th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft after the Titans traded up six spots.

“I went through it and I told him I went through it,” Britt said. “I tell him each and every day they’re only on your back because they want you to play. They don’t want you to come in and sit on the bench.”

Britt said all Titans receivers are following the lead of Nate Washington, who was one of three Titans that was a coin toss captain in Thursday’s preseason opener, in pushing each other physically and verbally.

“We want to make sure we’re doing our job because we want to take it to the next level,” Britt said.

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains drew similarities in the methods to the way one of his top mentors, the late Mike Heimerdinger, approached developing Britt and Drew Bennett.

“Sometimes I think it’s misleading with us yelling and getting after him is more of our expectations being very high,” said Loggains, who added he wants consistency to join the “flash plays” that Hunter has made in practice.

Loggains said Hunter “had probably his best day” during Saturday’s practice but had a drop Sunday on a night when the entire offense struggled. Hunter returned with a solid practice Monday that included getting behind fellow rookie Khalid Wooten on a deep completion in one-on-one drills.

BACKUP PUNTER?: Offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, who played 19 seasons for the Titans/Oilers franchise during his Hall of Fame career, still has the ability to crisply long-snap the football and showed Monday that he can punt it too. Matthews twice lined up as the punter during a special teams period and thumped the football. The first was a wobbler, but the second had a tighter spiral that drew reaction from special teams coach Nate Kaczor. Matthews didn’t try the knuckler that current punter Brett Kern learned from his predecessor Craig Hentrich.

“I’m just glad he didn’t get hurt,” Munchak said of his former teammate and long-time friend. “Bruce used to be the backup punter when he was playing all of those years. That’s probably a fact most people don’t know about him, because he was never used in a game. So we thought that was a great chance to use him. The first one was ugly, but the second one was a little better.

“It was a nice hang time,” Munchak continued. “Actually, he out-kicked his coverage a little bit. I knew we’d ask him and I knew he’d want to do it. He jumped all over it, so it was good.”

HOW MUCH PLAYING TIME FOR LOCKER?: The Titans haven’t really begun preparing for Cincinnati yet, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said he’d like for Jake Locker to play the same amount Saturday or a little more than he did Thursday. A review of the play-by-play showed Locker was at QB on 25 plays (not including plays deleted by penalties) but his playing time was limited by a one-play drive on which Chris Johnson delivered a 58-yard TD and a long possession by the Redskins that consumed all but 26 seconds of the final 6:41 of the first half.

“He will probably get a little bit more playing time,” Munchak said. “We want to keep him out there. It just depends on how the game’s going. Hopefully, we’ll have some nice, long drives early where we can make a decision on if we want to take him out sooner. The mindset for these guys is that they play a half. If they come out and have more plays, then great. If not, then we finish it up.”

BIG COUNTRY CLUB: The Titans have paced themselves this offseason with the return of right tackle David Stewart, who is recovering from a broken leg he suffered last December. Stewart is fondly referred to as “Big Country” in homage to his size and rural roots, but Loggains delivered the line of the day by coining another nickname in reference to Stewart being withheld from practice.

“We’ve changed his name from “Big Country” to “Country Club,” but it will be nice to have Dave out there,” Loggains joked. “He’s one of our enforcers and is a tough guy but is a very good right tackle. He needs to knock some rust off as well, so I’m excited to get him out there and see what he can do.”

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