Titans expect big things from Johnson, have hopes for Locker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- New offensive coordinator Chris Palmer tells Titans' fans that if Jake Locker turns out to be the best quarterback on the roster, the rookie will start.

Palmer also is confident about one thing in his running game: Chris Johnson can score every time he touches the ball.

"Chris Johnson is one of our playmakers, and we want to get as much out of him as we could," Palmer said.

The Titans put their offensive and defensive coordinators on a conference call Thursday with season ticket-holders in their latest outreach to fans during the NFL's lockout. General manager Mike Reinfeldt and head coach Mike Munchak had a similar call May 6, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talked to Titans' fans May 26.

Palmer, who noted Munchak and Reinfeldt have declared the starting quarterback job an open competition, recalled being with New England when the Patriots drafted Drew Bledsoe and brought in a veteran to hold the starting job until they thought Bledsoe was ready.

"Ten days into camp, it was very clear to players, the coaches, the fans that Bledsoe was our best quarterback ...," Palmer said. "As this lockout continues, we may have to pare down some of the things we do, but I don't think it'll affect our play on the field. And when they're ready to play, they're ready to play."

Neither coordinator could be too specific on some answers. The Titans, coming off a 6-10 season, have holes to fill when the lockout ends and free agency begins.

That includes a veteran quarterback to work with Locker and Rusty Smith, a sixth-round draft pick last year. Kerry Collins has been with Tennessee the past five seasons and believes he can play a few more years. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck also will be a free agent, and Reinfeldt knows him well from his years in Seattle.

Turns out Palmer knows Hasselbeck, too. He said he's known Hasselbeck since 1986, when they lived in the same town.

"I think our pro personnel people and Mike Reinfeldt are working on bringing in a veteran quarterback," Palmer said. "Who that guy's going to be, it's too early to say."

Fans quizzed Palmer on what kind of offense he plans to run, whether he'll throw downfield more, whether they'll see the screen pass again, and whether it's time to cut back Johnson's workload. The running back was fourth in the NFL with 1,364 yards rushing in 2010, the second-best follow-up by any of the NFL's six 2,000-yard rushers.

Palmer said he's looked into how Johnson maintained his weight last season and isn't worried about whether the back can handle the work. He said he wants a balanced offense and that the passing attack will be slightly different.

Palmer said Munchak mandated to him that the offense work on the screen game. Palmer said too often screens look ugly in practice, with players going half-speed, and work better in games. He estimated they have 15 or 16 screen-pass plays in the playbook.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray was asked how the Titans can trim penalties, especially on third down. Only Oakland (1,276 yards) and Philadelphia (1,101) had more yards in penalties than Tennessee (1,040) last season.

"We can control jumping offsides, we can control hitting the quarterbacks ...," Gray said. "Those are some of the little tricks we can do. And to me, you can put earplugs in. It doesn't matter how much the quarterback is counting or bobbing his head. If you're watching the brown thing, when the brown thing moves, go."

Gray told ticket-holders the Titans will use more multiple looks defensively, thanks to end Derrick Morgan's return from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season in the fourth game and by drafting linebacker Akeem Ayers of UCLA.

The options at end depend on free agency. Pro Bowler Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford could sign anywhere once the lockout is over.

The cornerback job opposite Cortland Finnegan will be another open competition. Jason McCourty started the first three games before he was hurt, and rookie Alterraun Verner replaced him to finish the season.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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