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Notebook: Justin Hunter Gaining More Than Yards on Each Catch

Posted Dec 13, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A pair of deep receptions by Justin Hunter scored one touchdown and set up another last week, but the rookie is gaining more than yardage.

The Titans moved up in the draft to select Hunter based on potential, and he’s showing why they did as the season progresses. Eleven of his 18 catches (and 232 of 354 receiving yards) have come in the past three weeks, and he’s had two 100-yard receiving games and two TDs in that span.

“A little like a late bloomer, but they gave me a chance late in the year,” said Hunter, who leads the Titans with 19.7 yards per catch.

“It’s still a work in progress and I think he’s getting better at a lot of stuff,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “I think there’s still some stuff technique-wise, route running-wise that he has to improve on and it’s not going to happen overnight. He’s a rookie, he’s making plays for us. We’re excited about that. We’re excited about the potential he has, but it’s definitely a process and he’s got to continue to get better.”

Hunter has been receptive to coaching from Shawn Jefferson and tips from other players and said his confidence is growing.

“It’s good because they’re looking for me a lot on third downs and everything,” Hunter said. “When I do, it builds my confidence a lot, so I’m more concerned about that than long balls.”

GOING AGAINST STINGY RUN D: Chris Johnson has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his pro seasons and said he wants to extend that five-year streak.

“It’s definitely the standard for running backs in the NFL is 1,000 yards and just to get 1,000 yards is a blessing,” Johnson said. “You want to get way more than 1,000, but just getting 1,000 is a blessing because there’s so many running backs in the league that haven’t had 1,000-yard season yet, so anytime you get it is a plus.”

Johnson has 820 yards on 217 carries this season with three games left and knows how good Arizona has been against the run this season. The Cardinals are allowing 84.5 yards per game on the ground (third-best mark in the NFL).

“They’re a real good defense. Those guys have real discipline,” Johnson said. “They’ve got a lot of veterans on their team so you can tell where the discipline is coming from. They stay in their gaps and stay sound and they’re athletic and big so it’s a situation where we’re going to have to get on those guys and do the best we can do.”

Loggains said Arizona’s front seven defenders do multiple things to create matchups they want to stop the run and rush the passer.

“I think their front seven is so good,” Loggains said. “They move around and they’re as creative as any team but big. Their defensive line is extremely big and active with exotic blitzes.”

LEON WASHINGTON BOOSTS RETURNS: It’s only been two games in the punt and kick return specialist for Leon Washington, but Titans coach Mike Munchak said the veteran has sparked Tennessee’s return teams.

Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return at Denver to set up Tennessee’s second touchdown and a 33-yard punt return at Indianapolis. He’s averaging 35.9 yards on kickoff returns (eight for 287 yards) and 21.5 on punt returns (two for 43 yards) with four fair catches. His 209 yards on five kickoff returns last week are the third most in an NFL game this season and the third most in Titans/Oilers franchise history.

“When he came in here, you see how he prepares, his work ethic, you knew he was going to be fun to watch on Sundays,” Munchak said. “He’s done some good things. I think the confidence is way up in those rooms. We’ve been blocking well, but we haven’t been getting anything for our efforts. I think he has brought that. They want him to bring it out, they want to see what he can do, so I think that is part of the excitement on the sidelines that we haven’t had in a while.”       

Munchak was asked if Washington, who was claimed after New England put him on waivers, is playing his way into the conversation for coming back next year.

“I think those are things (we’ll discuss) when the season ends,” Munchak said. “He’s a guy that’s running well. He’s been around a little bit, but he still has got good legs. He can do some other things probably later on with the offense. He could probably start helping there more when he has more time to learn what we’re doing, plus he’s good for the team. He’s a good example kind of guy and work ethic and all that is great.”

INJURY UPDATES: Alterraun Verner (groin) and Akeem Ayers (groin) fully practiced Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday. Munchak said both are questionable but should be able to play Sunday. David Stewart (shoulder), Karl Klug (back), Andy Levitre (hip), Brian Schwenke (anke), Delanie Walker (concussion) and Leon Washington (ankle) are probable for Sunday’s game. Click here for the full injury report.

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