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Hamstring injury sidelines Titans first-round draft pick Morgan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- So much for the eagerly anticipated arrival of the Titans' top draft pick. The team must wait just a little bit longer to see how defensive end Derrick Morgan does with the whole squad.

Morgan, the 16th overall pick, watched Tuesday as the Titans convened for their first minicamp as a full team this offseason. Morgan tweaked a hamstring while running sprints Monday, and the Titans chose to let him rest up rather than risk further injury.

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"He is just a little tight," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Morgan. "It is a precautionary thing. We are just going to watch him. A significant injury right now could result in a huge setback, so we are just going to watch him."

The caution comes because the Titans watched 2009 top draft pick Kenny Britt start training camp last year on the physically unable to perform list after hurting his hamstring in May.

Morgan is one of several new players Tennessee added to get younger and faster on defense. He's the youngest of a draft class featuring five defensive players. The Titans also added defensive end Jason Babin, linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Tye Hill.

Now the Titans are busy putting those pieces together to improve a unit they desperately need better production from after missing the playoffs last season with an 8-8 record. By the time the season starts Sept. 12 against the Oakland Raiders, the Titans could have as many as four new starters on a defense that finished 28th in the NFL in total yards allowed and next to last against the pass in 2009.

How quickly can the revised defense come together?

"I can't answer that. I don't know how long," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "But it's got to come together by the first game. We've got OTAs (organized team activities), training camp and preseason to get it all together. I think we will take the coaching, self-critique you all the time, and we'll get better as individuals and as a team."

For now, the open starting spots are at right defensive end, where Kyle Vanden Bosch was allowed to leave for the Detroit Lions in free agency; left cornerback, where Nick Harper was allowed to just leave; and outside linebacker, where Keith Bulluck is an unrestricted free agent recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

A fourth job could be open, depending on outside linebacker David Thornton's health. He has yet to practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery, which ended his last season in late December, and also a hip injury that limited him much of the season. Gerald McRath, who started five games for Thornton in 2009, is playing in that spot right now.

Fisher said Tuesday that Thornton's health is a legitimate concern, and the coach repeated himself that he would love for Bulluck to finish his career with Tennessee. Bulluck's name plate is still above his locker, but the Titans want to see him healthy first before the season starts. Then there's trying to get him under contract.

The competition to start opposite Finnegan features former first-round pick Hill, Rod Hood, Ryan Mouton, Jason McCourty and rookie Alterraun Verner, a fourth-round selection who had 13 interceptions at UCLA. Fisher said they will compete into the preseason before the Titans settle on a starter.

Tennessee's defense works best when the four linemen don't need extra blitzers to sack quarterbacks or at least force them to throw the ball before they want. The Titans had just 31 sacks in 2009, and that's why they drafted Morgan, an All-American and the Atlantic Coast Conference's defensive player of the year.

Morgan, who's 6-foot-3 and 266 pounds, had 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss in 27 starts at Georgia Tech. Assistant coach Jim Washburn said Morgan is tough and a good football player, but he's waiting to get excited once he sees the rookie a few times in full practices with the team.

Babin, a 2004 first-round pick who's now on his fifth NFL team, intrigues Washburn even more. The Titans signed Babin in March, hoping for a find similar to 2005 when they took a chance on Vanden Bosch and watched him go to three Pro Bowls.

Washburn said Babin has "flopped" everywhere he has been, with some of the blame his own and the rest to teams trying to make him fit their schemes. Tennessee just lets linemen chase away, making offenses adjust.

"I think if he's got a chance, if this is his last train to Clarksville, ... he's got a chance here because he's good at what we do," Washburn said.

Notes: Fisher said RB Dominique Lindsay hurt his Achilles tendon during the Titans' rookie orientation earlier this month and had season-ending surgery. ... Verner and RB LeGarrette Blount missed the OTA session because school hasn't finished yet at UCLA or Oregon.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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