Titans filling leadership void with Young, newer players

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans look, and sound, dramatically different this training camp.

Linebacker Keith Bulluck is keeping practices lively with the New York Giants, and end Kyle Vanden Bosch is sprinting full-speed at quarterbacks for the Detroit Lions. Center Kevin Mawae, the veteran who kept the Titans' offensive line loose, is waiting for his telephone to ring with a job offer.

The loss of those three vocal veterans left a void in Tennessee, and Titans coach Jeff Fisher receives a lot of questions about who his new leaders will be. He isn't worried, though.

"I don't have any reservations whatsoever about the lack of (leaders) or concerns about it," Fisher said. "We've got a good locker room. We have young players emerging at each of the positions. This team has had a great foundation laid here over the years and the decades."

But who will fill those gaps?

Vince Young, the third overall pick in the 2006 draft and 26-13 as the Titans' starting quarterback, is speaking up even more. He also has been around the team's headquarters more this offseason than any other. So has fullback Ahmard Hall, a former Marine.

There's linebacker Stephen Tulloch, the man whom Fisher calls the glue in making Tennessee's defensive calls. There's also fiery cornerback Cortland Finnegan and usually quiet safety Chris Hope, who's entering his ninth NFL season.

Hall insists the process of installing new leadership started during the offseason.

"You just can't come out of nowhere and start trying to lead," Hall said. "You have to start the first day we come back to organized activities during the offseason program. Then when the guys are here early every day, you have to show the guys you're going to lead by example."

Justin Gage and Nate Washington do that daily, leading receivers to work catching balls off a passing machine. Finnegan calls himself a doer, not a talker, even though he tends to talk at opponents during games.

"I feel like I'm that piece of the engine as a spark plug," Finnegan said. "You really can't get the car cranked up unless you've got the spark plug."

That's what tackle Tony Brown is trying to do on the defensive line. He's the Titans' senior lineman, signing with the team as a free agent in October 2006 and receiving two more contracts to stay.

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"I just have to show these younger guys how to do things by the way that I do things," said Brown, who has been on the physically unable to perform list while he recovers from right knee surgery this offseason. "I'm not a big rah-rah guy. I just go out to do what I can do, and that way it'll rub off on those guys."

Brown predicts Hope, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing with the Titans in 2006, will be one of the players who speaks up before kickoff.

"It'll be a shock to us to hear from a guy who doesn't really normally speak too much," Brown said. "That definitely gets guys going."

Left tackle Michael Roos, who has started 80 consecutive games since being drafted in 2005, tried to take up for Mawae on the second day of training camp, wearing the center's No. 68 jersey to practice. Roos fooled a few fans who hoped the Titans had decided to bring Mawae back to an offense that ranked second in the NFL in rushing last season and allowed just 15 sacks.

Most of the attention and pressure to lead falls on Young as the quarterback.

Young did that very well in college, leading Texas to the BCS national title after the 2005 season. He also came off the bench after last year's 0-6 start and led the Titans, with Chris Johnson running for 2,006 yards, to an 8-2 finish.

Young agrees it's time for players like himself, Finnegan and Tulloch to pick up that leadership role. And Young likes what he sees.

"They're doing a good job," Young said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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