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Tennessee Titans training camp: Locker pushing to be starter

NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps. Ian Rapoport details his visit with the Tennessee Titans. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)

WHERE IS NFL.COM?

The Titans are a no-nonsense team with an old-school coach, so it's not surprising that their training camp takes place at home. No fancy setup, minimal atmosphere and little fanfare just outside Nashville. That seems to be just fine with them. Fans line the fields looking for autographs and cheering them on, and most can get as close as shouting distance. Eighties classics such as E.U.'s "Da Butt" form the soundtrack, creating a relaxed pre-practice atmosphere. Only the consistent heat makes a visit to the Titans anything less than enjoyable.

Click on team name for full report; click here for a complete archive.

AFC East
Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
49ers | Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

OBSERVATION DECK

1. The QB competition is real... but there is a favorite. It's not a farce. The Titans, specifically coach Mike Munchak, aren't splitting reps between second-year Jake Locker and veteran Matt Hasselbeck for fun. They aren't doing it to keep Hasselbeck engaged before turning over the franchise to the No. 8 pick in 2010. Hasselbeck and Locker are locked in a duel, and both have had their moments. On Friday, Hasselbeck was 13 of 15 during the team drills portion, while Locker was 16 of 20 with an interception (according to the Tennessean). That came on the heels of Locker having a rough time with night before. "When you go out and don't have your best performance, you want to bounce back and have a good showing," Locker said. In the locker room, Locker has earned widespread respect for his work ethic and diligence, along with his athleticism, while Hasselbeck has the wisdom. It's clear internally that the Titans' brass would like Locker to earn the job and become the team's franchise passer for the next decade. That is the team's sincere hope. But Hasselbeck isn't making it easy.

2. Chris Johnson is back to his old tricks. Only toward the end of the season in 2011 did Chris Johnson begin to feel like his old self. And that was fleeting. "I can't even say I was really, really myself, honestly," Johnson said, shaking his head about a year that saw him gain just 1,047 yards. He held out and never made it back into football shape, spending the entire season trying to find his groove. One needs the entire camp, and even when we chatted Friday, he admitted, "It takes toward the end of camp to get into football shape. But when it's time to get into a game, I'll be used to it already." Can he find himself and begin a march toward 2,000 yards again? Time will tell. The truth is, Johnson looked incredibly fast during the workout, even during drills that were supposed to be half-speed. His cuts were sharp, the spring is back and teammates have noticed. So has the team's brass. "CJ, it's his old self," general manager Ruston Webster said. As fantasy owners drool ... 

3. The Titans have a solid foundation as a franchise. You can really tell how strong a team is when things don't go right. Lose a star or two, meet adversity, then see what's up -- like the New England Patriots when they went 11-5 without Tom Brady. I won't put the Titans in that category just yet, but they are extremely solid as an organization. How did Tennessee go 9-7 despite Johnson being a shell of himself and star receiver Kenny Britt playing a mere three games? By having depth, including the eighth-ranked scoring defense. A sound and fierce offensive line, several serviceable receivers, a beastly front four that now includes Kamerion Wimbley and an underrated secondary even without last year's standout Cortland Finnegan. The Titans are primed to compete with the Houston Texans in the AFC South. And if they stay healthy, they may do more than compete.

4. Hey, did someone mention Kenny Britt? While the Titans got after it for two hours on one field, there stood a shirtless, chiseled figure in the distance working with trainer Steve Watterson, on an adjacent field. It was Britt, whose troubled offseason included an arrest for DUI and surgeries on both knees. The team is being cautious about Britt, wanting to bring him off the physically unable to perform list slowly while also waiting for possible league disciplinary action. "We'll probably be more conservative on that than not," Webster said about when to activate Britt. But Britt has been progressing at a rapid pace, which could force the organization to change their expectations. On Friday, the player said he was "feeling good," and Munchak said, "I think he's surprised how well he's progressing." Don't be surprised if Britt is playing almost immediately upon activation, likely with a small package of plays to work him in.

THE NEW GUYS

Kendall Wright: The first-round draft pick was late to camp, waiting for his contract to get figured out. And on Friday, he was forced to mostly watch as his teammate went in full-pads. But his selection wasn't made to have him standing on the sidelines. Depending partly on Britt's status, the plan is for Wright to play immediately, and the team's brass doesn't think it'll be an issue. He impressive during minicamp and has been studious when it comes to learning the playbook. When we watched limited reps on Friday, he seemed to be still thinking things through, not playing as fast as his own speed. Figure that will dissipate as he becomes more comfortable. Whoever the quarterback is will gain a weapon with serious play speed.

Brooks: Would Titans miss Britt?
Legal trouble might force the Titans to be without Kenny Britt next season, but they have plenty of offensive options to lean on, Bucky Brooks writes. More ...

Kamerion Wimbley: One of the offseason's most under-the-radar (yet massive) signings, Wimbley gives the Titans gain a natural pass-rusher who can play multiple roles. He burst onto the scene with 11 sacks as a rookie but hasn't approached that mark since. With so much depth on the D-line, the Titans' rotation might keep it that way. But Wimbley's impact will be felt, and if the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder can rush the quarterback like the in-his-prime star he is, the secondary will improve quickly, too. No wonder Munchak was bragging about the team's front four during the offseason.

Steve Hutchinson: How much can a 34-year-old guard help the Titans? When it's Hutchinson, the answer is easy. Immensely. No, he's not quite the player he was at 28, but his experience and prowess should help the run game. So should his nastiness. If Locker is the quarterback, his mobility will lead to more sacks, but Hutchinson should still only improve a line that gave up just 24 last year. With the Titans on to their third-string center in camp, figure Hutchinson's knowledge will help ease that issue, too. Johnson smiled broadly when discussing his offensive line.

OVERHEARD

"My mobility allows for consideration for defensive coordinators. Play-calling, I think they might just alter how they call a game a little bit just knowing there is the possibility of getting outside the pocket, making something happen." -- Locker, on the best thing he brings to the offense.

EXTRA POINTS

1. The Titans are still stung by the loss of former teammate O.J. Murdock, so great move by Munchak to allow tight end Jared Cook and receiver Damian Williams to attend Murdock's funeral.

2. It makes for an odd dynamic, but Hasseleck and Locker are friends. They've known each other since Locker was at Washington, and Hasselbeck actually is still teaching him.

3. Not a great sign for former first-round defensive end Derrick Morgan, who has been getting some work with the second team. Perhaps this serves as a wakeup call.

OUTLOOK

The focus has, rightly, been on the quarterback competition. But there is a lot to like about this team whoever the signal-caller is. It's deep in the front four, the secondary is sound, Johnson looks impressive, and there is enough depth at receiver to withstand itself if Britt has to miss a few games. Once the Titans nail down that quarterback spot, they will challenge the Texans for supremacy in their division. How seriously they can do so depends on how well Locker or Hasselbeck plays. If Locker starts and can build on the flashes he showed last year, look out.

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