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Camp Notebook: Titans Break Grind with Unique Drills

Posted Aug 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans broke up the grind of training camp Tuesday by opening practice with a period of rotational drills that focused on protecting the football, what to do after a turnover and blocking a punt.

Several of the groupings were integrations of the roster and put players in position to work with coaches they don’t normally or have never worked with.

“I had never been in a drill obviously with Coach Gregg Williams, so for him to talk to us and say he wanted to coach the line (was fun), and then with (linebackers coach) Chet (Parlavecchio), we know how passionate he is.

“With Coach Chet we were doing a fumble recovery drill so he made us go back to kind of our high school days,” Velasco continued. “With Coach Williams we were doing a pursuit drill. Hopefully we don’t have any turnovers on offense, but in case we do, we can get angles and go jump on the ball or make the tackle. It was fun to work with other coaches and do other drills than just kick stepping and run blocking and pass blocking all day.”

It was the first time Velasco tried to block a punt in a drill that used volleyballs instead of footballs but not the first time that coaches have swapped footballs for volleyballs on special teams drills. The benefit is the more consistent bounces that volleyballs take allow for more productive repetitions for punt block and downing punts deep inside opposing territory.

“I struggled a little bit. I didn’t even hit the ball,” Velasco said. “This game is hard enough so to do something fun, to go over there and play defense or do anything fun it can lighten up the room and lighten up the guys. All the guys were happy to do it.”

The slight distraction was welcome from Velasco’s position battle with Rob Turner, Chris Spencer and Brian Schwenke to be named the team’s starting center.

Rookie Chance Warmack hoists a ball after recovering it during a drill that the Titans used to open Tuesday's practice.
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Titans coach Mike Munchak said Tuesday the team is still evaluating the offensive position but coaches will discuss and are likely to determine it this week. Turner started against Washington and Velasco started at Cincinnati.

Turner said the drills were fun and light but also realistic.

“A ball gets on the ground, and guys need to be able to jump on it and protect it,” Turner said. “God forbid an interception or a fumble down the field, you have to be able to take a pursuit angle, and most of us offensive linemen, aside from a fumble or interception haven’t tackled since high school. I had some tackles in college but it was on fumbles and interceptions, so I think it’s good as a refresher.

“It’s instinctive. You turn, you run, you hit, but as far as the act of stripping the ball or jumping on the field or tackling in the open field, that’s something that’s kind of been absent for us as offensive linemen, aside from those instances, for quite a while,” Turner added.

Whether it was having defensive players catch footballs from machines, or having offensive linemen get up from the ground and race to a football on the ground, Munchak said it was good to schedule a little time to work on those aspects of the game before resuming regular practice.

“We teach them the technique, some ball technique, and to focus on the ball,” Munchak added. “We all know how important the ball is on every play so it’s just kind of emphasizing that.”

PITOITUA ON MEND: Ropati Pitoitua, who suffered a broken hand at Cincinnati, has had surgery and had his arm in a sling Tuesday. The defensive end who signed as a free agent this offseason will not play against the Falcons.

“You don’t want to get out there and not do a great job out there,” Pitoitua said. “I’m kind of back-and-forth but right now I’m focused on trying to get this healthy and doing whatever I can.”

Pitoitua said he was unsure how long he’ll be in a cast. He broke a bone near his pinky in the same hand in 2011 and played through one regular season game in a cast.

“It happened somewhere in the beginning. I thought I jammed a finger. I jam my fingers most of the time,” Pitoitua said. “I could tell by halftime, the glove was getting fatter, so I took it off, stopped playing, told the trainers and got an X-ray on it.”

The hands are particularly important to defensive linemen not only to tackle but to get off blocks from offensive linemen.

“These are our tools,” Pitoitua said, lifting his hands. “This is what we need to use.”

CB POSITION BATTLE: The challenge for right cornerback that is going on between 2012 starter Alterraun Verner and Tommie Campbell will continue Saturday, Munchak said, with coaches trying to script about the same amount of playing time with the first team for each player.

“As coaches, you always want to see guys separate and make it easy for us, but when guys are playing around the same and each guy has his strengths and weaknesses, then you’re still kind of evaluating what’s best for the team,” Munchak said. “I think that decision hasn’t been made yet. You want to see them both in there with the first group, not just one or the other. I think you’ll see us try to get about the same amount of reps and make the decision when the game is over.”

NOTES: Schwenke (hamstring) moved closer to making his pro debut by returning to team drills on the show team. … Munchak said tight end Delanie Walker (knee) “did more” and TE Taylor Thompson (shoulder) participated in team drills “so he’s back in the flow of the normal rotation (and) should play on Saturday.” … S Daimon Stafford (hamstring) and LB Greg Jones (ankle) were also able to participate in some activities. … LBs Zach Brown (foot) and Moise Fokou (knee) did not participate, but Munchak is optimistic both will be available Saturday against Atlanta. … DT Sammie Hill (elbow), LB Akeem Ayers and WR/KR Marc Mariani will not.

Game Rewind: Tennessee Titans

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