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Camp Notebook: With Amano out, Velasco and Matthews are Up

Posted Aug 4, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Eugene Amano’s ninth season in the NFL ended before it really started.

Titans coach Mike Munchak confirmed Saturday that Amano suffered a torn triceps during practice Thursday night when his right arm was awkwardly struck by a helmet during a pass play. 

“I talked to the doctor today, and Eugene definitely tore his triceps and he will be out for the season,” Munchak said. “So, he’ll need surgery at some point next week. We were holding off to make sure it was officially in that situation.”

It was obviously tough news for Amano, who was selected by the Titans in the seventh round with the 239th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft and developed into a versatile and incredibly durable offensive lineman.

“He’s no doubt depressed and disappointed because we had good talks during the offseason and we were going to compete,” Munchak said. “He knew what was going on, and I think he was excited about the opportunity. He was excited about competing and winning the spot, no matter who we brought in to compete with.”

Amano entered camp in competition with Kevin Matthews and Fernando Velasco for the starting job. Matthews recently sustained a concussion and has been withheld from practice and is unlikely to return until Wednesday, Munchak said.

Amano made 68 starts and played in 124 of a possible 128 regular season games in the past eight seasons for the Titans. Amano played center and both guard positions, and started all 16 games in 2011 at center.

“He’s a guy who was drafted in the seventh round and paid some big-time dividends for this football team the way he’s played for this football team over the years and worked his way in just like Fernando,” Munchak said. “(Eugene) was a swing guy for a handful of years and then started at guard and started at center. He’s really had a good football career at this point, and you hate to see it end this way for this year. He’s going to have to work hard to come back next year.”

Velasco, an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, spent all of 2008 on the practice squad. He has appeared in 33 games on special teams and in a reserve role on the interior of the offensive line the past three seasons. Velasco made three starts during the 2010 season.  Most of Velasco’s reps during voluntary organized team activity practices were at right guard, but Munchak said the Titans expect Leroy Harris, who was coming back from injury this spring, will start at that position. 

“Fernando is very comfortable,” Munchak said. “He’s been here quite some time in this system. He’s a big kid, strong; he’s handled it well. The quarterbacks are very confident in him, so it’s a great opportunity for him. I think that’s what this league is all about. You have guys that are preparing for this moment, and his moment is now, and we’ll see how he handles it and go from there.”

Matthews joined the Titans in 2010 as an undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M. He made the 53-man roster as a rookie and appeared in three games with one start that season. Matthews did not appear in a game during the 2011 season, but continued to develop in the system.

Munchak, a Hall of Fame lineman as a player and former offensive line coach, said he has confidence in Velasco and Matthews, despite the lack of substantial game action.

“We still feel we have good options with two guys that people don’t know very well but we know very well,” he said. “I know I’m confident because I’ve watched them grow in their positions, and our quarterbacks are, and that’s where it starts, so it will be fun to watch how they handle the opportunity.”

The Titans added depth at center Saturday by signing Chris Morris, who has played in 51 games and made 11 starts in five seasons.

STORM SHORTENS PRACTICE: The Titans held a closed mock game at LP Field Saturday afternoon to further prepare for game-like situations. Although a storm caused the practice to end abruptly, Munchak and players said they were able to accomplish a significant amount during the trial run and become more acclimated to pre-game procedures.

“The good thing was we got all the work done with the ones and the twos,” Munchak said. “They got around 35 to 38 plays each and we covered a lot of situations — move the ball situations, backed up (against the end zone), low red zone, high red zone, two-minute drives, so we’re real happy about that. Unfortunately, when the storms were coming in and we were worried about the lightning, the young guys are the ones that missed out on some work — probably about 20 snaps that we’ll incorporate in tomorrow’s workout. The good thing is the experience of coming over here.”

Nine-year NFL veteran Jordan Babineaux said it was another step toward preparing for the approaching season less than a week before Tennessee’s first preseason game at Seattle.

“I walked out of that tunnel and kind of embraced the feeling of if the stadium was full of 74,000 people and kind of went through my whole mental routine,” Babineaux said.

The experience helped Titans rookies as well.

Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who was selected in the fourth round, said the experience reminded him a little bit of before home games at Clemson, where the pre-game ritual includes rubbing Howard’s Rock for luck before running on the field.

“Any time you get a chance to come out and compete for the Titans, it’s just an honor, whether we’re at Baptist (Sports Park) or here, but it did feel a little different,” Sensabaugh said. “It kind of reminded me of my first scrimmage at Clemson. I miss rubbing the rock, but I’m sure I’ll learn the traditions of LP Field as well.”

Sensabaugh, who recorded an interception just before halftime of the mock game, said veterans like Babineaux, Michael Griffin, Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner have taken him under their wings during training camp.

“I’m just trying to study what they do and watch them and learn from them, just trying to get better every day,” Sensabaugh said. “I have a lot of work to do in all facets of the game. I’m just trying to become a better player to help this team win.”   

WRIGHT FULLY PARTICIPATES: Saturday marked the first time that receiver Kendall Wright, the Titans’ first-round draft pick, saw LP Field. It also marked the first time during camp that he was able to shed a red, no-contact jersey typically reserved for quarterbacks and wear the same white jersey as his teammates on offense. 

“I think he was embarrassed to be in the red,” Munchak said. “He was begging me yesterday not to wear it, but it’s good to have him getting into it now. Tomorrow will be a good day for him going forward. He just needs a lot of reps to get back into the feel of the game.”

The temporary restriction on what Wright was allowed to do for the first three days was caused by Wright’s slightly delayed arrival at Titans camp until his four-year contract was completed.

“I feel good. I just wanted to get out there and run some routes,” Wright said. “I always felt like a football player. I never stop feeling like that, but I just didn’t feel like myself.”

MARIANI ON THE MOVE: Two of the more significant pass plays Saturday involved Jake Locker moving around the pocket and throwing to Marc Mariani. The first was during a move-the-ball session, and the second occurred during work in the red zone. Locker rolled to his left and hit Mariani in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown.

“The first one was just a play action, just dragging across. It looked like Jake had protection, so he had time to find me cutting across,” Mariani said. “That play worked out well, and then the second one was kind of a little scramble drill. I just tried to find a pocket, and he threw it in there. When the balls come my way, I just try to make plays and take advantage of my opportunities.”

COACH PLEASED WITH QBS: Munchak is usually asked to provide a daily assessment of Locker and Matt Hasselbeck as they compete for the starting quarterback job. The coach said the structure of Saturday’s mock game offered a different assessment tool.

“I know that’s the thing we’re going to judge forever,” Munchak said. “That’s the nature of the beast here, but I think it’s more fun to see in this atmosphere when they’re out there competing and running the show themselves. I like the way they’re handling the huddle. I like the way they’re talking to players. They’re doing a lot of things that you wish for your quarterback to do.”

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